Abe’s commitment to Russia is demonstrated by his reappointment of Hiroshige Seko as Minister on Russian affairs, along with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). In the Japanese cabinet history, such special minister on a particular country had never been instituted before.
On October 2, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe organized his fourth government, after he won the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election on September 20. Abe defeated his rival Shigeru Ishiba, former Defense Minister, by double score (553 vs 254). Recently Abe had concentrated power instituting a kind of quasi-presidential system, and his victory was predetermined. What was striking in this election was that 45 percent of local LDP supporters were still in favor of Ishiba who can thus survive as a candidate for the post-Abe leadership. This was possibly because effects of Abenomics were limited at the local or provincial levels.
Shinzo Abe is known as the LDP crown prince. His roots are in the Yamaguchi prefecture where the core elites of the Meiji Revolution (Restoration) emerged 150 years ago. His grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was a prewar politician and then Prime Minister (1957-1960) and his father Shintaro Abe was Foreign Minister who met Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev several times.
The composition of Abe’s fourth cabinet seems not so novel and looks like the continuation of his third government (2017). Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Taro Aso is grandson of Shigeru Yoshida, a postwar period politician. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Taro Kono, is grandson of Ichiro Kono, who negotiated with Nikita Khrushchev on the 1956 Joint Declaration.
Peace Treaty Between Russia and Japan: Who Benefits?
At the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum Vladimir Putin offered to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to conclude a peace treaty "without preconditions" before the end of the year. This proposal seemed to look spontaneous, and so far no official answer came from the Japanese side.
Abe’s commitment to Russia is demonstrated by his reappointment of Hiroshige Seko as Minister on Russian affairs, along with Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). In the Japanese cabinet history, such special minister on a particular country had never been instituted before. In the fourth government, new faces were rather limited, like Satuki Katayama, the only female politician, or Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya. This cabinet is likely to stay until the September 2021 election of the LDP leadership, if he could win the July 2019 upper house election, partly because opposition parties are so far deeply divided into small factions.
Abe is a lucky politician to come back to premiership in December 2012, by defeating the Democrats, and continue to run his governments for the next six years. If one looks at Japanese political cycles, almost all the cabinets are short-lived, especially in the post-cold war period, but there are exceptions like Junichiro Koizumi (2002-2006) and Shinzo Abe, who had strong relations with the US government and their tenure for quite a long time. President Trump is known as unpredictable, but Abe could still come to terms with him rather smoothly. Also he has already made 22 meetings with President Vladimir Putin to solve the peace treaty issue. Abe knows details of the past negotiations with Russia and if could act properly with Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Minister Seko, he may get tangible progress with President Putin on the peace treaty.
His agendas are conservative challenges towards the postwar consensus, especially on the Peace Constitution, as well as the peace treaty with Russia and improvement of the DPRK. Seemingly Abe is a strong leader with the LDP majority in the parliament. Still, internal struggle for leadership also shows slight decline in his popularity, especially within the LDP. It is not an easy task for Abe to challenge the postwar consensus of the Peace Constitution. Komeito, the running mate of the LDP, is skeptical on the constitutional agenda. Among others, Abe never appointed his challenger Ishiba as a Cabinet Minister, thus leaving his oppositionist activity intact. Ishiba’s position on the Constitution seems more radical, though tactically he seems more restrained. It remains unclear how to persuade these protagonists, the LDP and oppositionists alike, on the constitutional issue.
Imminent political challenges to Prime Minister Abe include the problem of transition from the 125th Emperor Akihito to the 126th Emperor Naruhito next April and May, not an easy task, even for a conservative government. Another challenge is the increase of the consumption tax. According to the law, he is obliged to raise it from eight percent to ten percent next October. Abe’s government has already postponed this decision twice and is difficult to do it again. The July 2019 upper house election is next hurdle, the result of which will determine the future of Abe’s fourth government.