Age of Abe
Abe Tightens His Grip

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks determined to play the long game, after a rules change that could allow him to stay in power until 2021. Financial Times:

A historic change in party rules has handed Shinzo Abe the possibility of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in more than half a century.

The revision, which would allow Mr Abe to stay in power until 2021, marks a stunning turnround for a country long known for its revolving door of prime ministers to becoming one of the most stable governments among the group of seven leading industrial economies.

On Sunday, the ruling Liberal Democratic party of Japan formally approved a rule change that would allow the head of its party to serve up to three consecutive three-year terms, instead of two.

Abe is not guaranteed to rule until 2021; he will first need to be re-elected next year. But given Abe’s high approval ratings, the absence of credible internal challengers from his party, and an opposition still in shambles since its 2012 defeat, the Prime Minister’s odds look very favorable.

If Abe does stay in power until 2021, he may finally get his chance at a referendum on constitutional revisions. Abe has long sought to scrap or dramatically revise Article 9, the provision that forbids the use of force to settle disputes, though he has had to tread lightly given public opposition to amending the pacifist constitution. According to an October poll, for instance, 60% of Japanese think that constitutional changes should wait until Abe leaves office. But if China accelerates its already aggressive maneuvers, and Abe stays in office longer than expected, the public could come around on his re-militarization plans.

An extended Abe reign would also mean that for the foreseeable future, the most competitive relationship in Asia will continue to be directed by two nationalist leaders, each with great power ambitions: Abe and Xi Jinping. The Chinese president, who is consolidating his own power ahead of the party congress this fall, is expected to serve until at least 2022, meaning that he and Abe will likely be squaring off against each other for some time to come.

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