National / Politics

Abe equals Hirobumi Ito as Japan's third-longest-serving prime minister

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Shinzo Abe on Thursday equaled Hirobumi Ito, the nation’s first prime minister and a prominent statesman during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), as Japan’s third-longest-serving prime minister.

Thursday marked the 2,720th day of Abe’s administration, including his first, short-lived stint in power from 2006 to 2007.

“I’ve come this far thanks to strong support I’ve received from the public in the last five national elections, as well as various experiences I had during my first time” as the prime minister, Abe told reporters Thursday morning.

“I will go ahead and fulfill my responsibility to resolutely deliver on each policy promise I’ve made to the public,” he added.

Going forward, Abe’s chances of earning his place in history as the longest-serving prime minister hinge on how his ruling Liberal Democratic Party — as well as its coalition partner Komeito — fares in the crucial Upper House election in summer.

If he survives the poll and lasts until Aug. 24, Abe will surpass Eisaku Sato, who served for a total of 2,798 days, to move into second place on the list. If his leadership continues until Nov. 20, Abe would become the longest-serving prime minister ever, beating the record by Taro Katsura, who was in office for a combined 2,886 days.

Political observers largely attribute the longevity of Abe’s leadership to a relatively strong economy and a fragmented opposition that has failed to present a viable alternative to the juggernaut of the ruling coalition.

But the type of political legacies secured by Ito and Sato — such as the drafting of the Meiji Constitution and the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty, respectively — have so far eluded Abe. Many of his career-long ambitions, including revising the postwar Constitution, resolving the territorial dispute with Russia and repatriating Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, remain unfulfilled.

Still, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday credited Abe with his “strong leadership” that he said has reinvigorated the economy, and his restructuring of foreign and national security policies.

Opposition lawmakers are unconvinced.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, speaking to a gathering of her fellow Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers, painted a different picture of Abe’s time in office over the past 6½ years, characterizing it as akin to a “nightmare.”

“Over the past 2,720 days, things that no past administration ever dared to do have been carried out, including bulldozing unconstitutional legislation through the Diet,” Tsujimoto said in an apparent reference to the 2015 security laws that have significantly expanded the legal scope of overseas operations of the Self-Defense Forces. Some opposition lawmakers and scholars have argued the laws violate war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Tsujimoto also blasted the Finance Ministry’s falsification of official documents related to a shady 2016 sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which once had close ties with the prime minister’s wife, first lady Akie Abe.

“The minister (in charge) doesn’t even resign. … It’s no exaggeration, I think, to say the past 2,720 days have been a nightmare.”

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