National / Politics

Abe tied as longest-serving postwar Japanese leader with great-uncle Sato at 2,798 days

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was set to become the longest-serving prime minister in the postwar era on Saturday by serving an accumulated 2,799 days in office, overtaking his great-uncle Eisaku Sato.

Abe has been at the helm of Japanese politics since December 2012. He also served a brief stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 before resigning due to health issues.

“In all honesty, the past six years and eight months went by in what felt like a flash,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday, adding the government has focused on dealing with a number of issues “such as reviving the economy, restructuring our diplomatic and defense relationships and rebuilding our social welfare system,” under Abe’s leadership.

“We will stay on our toes and listen to the voices of the public regarding the challenges that our country faces, such as the revival of our economy,” Suga added.

Abe has maintained his popularity ever since returning as prime minister in 2012, with polls showing approval ratings of over 40 percent for much of the time he has been in office.

But his time as leader has not been without its share of scandals and setbacks.

His government pushed through controversial security laws in 2015 that expanded the extent to which the Self-Defense Forces could operate abroad. The legislation was deeply unpopular with the public, causing his approval ratings to plummet.

The Abe government was also mired in scandal when it came to light that the Finance Ministry had falsified official documents regarding a deal that saw a plot of state land sold at a deep discount to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties with first lady Akie Abe.

Still, the prime minister survived the scandals and remains a popular leader.

A poll by the daily Nikkei in May showed Abe and rising star Shinjiro Koizumi as the people the public would most like to see in office after Abe’s current term expires.

Abe and Koizumi tied with 21 percent, followed by 11 percent for former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, showcasing the enduring popularity of the prime minister.

Under party regulations, Abe’s term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party ends in September 2021, when he will have served the maximum of three consecutive terms.

That hasn’t stopped people from speculating on whether the LDP may change its own rules to let him run for a fourth term, seeing as the party did exactly that so he could run for a third. Abe has categorically denied that anything of the sort is on his mind.

However, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai has not ruled the possibility out, hinting in July that a fourth term may be possible as “that seems to be what the public wants.”

Abe is set to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister ever in November, when he would overtake Taro Katsura, who served 2,886 days in office at the turn of the 20th century.

Information from Kyodo added