Abe sparkles early in second stint as PM
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has kicked off his second stint in office with a spectacular policy blitz, ranging from a huge economic stimulus to a push to rewrite the pacifist constitution.
In sharp contrast to his lackluster first time as premier six years ago, the hawkish leader’s authoritative rhetoric and self-assured performance has bent the bank of Japan to his will, sent the yen tumbling and stocks soaring.
His unapologetic pronouncements, vowing no compromise in a territorial dispute with China even as he offered Beijing an open hand, have won plaudits in a country that has become used to coming second in diplomatic fisticuffs.
A political blue-blood, Abe was the nation’s youngest-ever prime minister when he stepped into the role in 2006 at the age of 52.
But a disastrous year ended in ignominy and bowel problems—the official reason for his resignation—after he guided his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to a crushing electoral defeat.
Now 58, the LDP leader has had his wits about him since landing back at the prime minister’s residence a month ago, hitting the ground running with a raft of economic, diplomatic and social policy proposals.
So-called “Abenomics” has had the biggest impact thus far. At its heart is a large public spending program coupled with aggressive monetary easing he hopes will help Japan spend its way out of deflation.
He is proposing a 92.6 trillion yen annual budget for fiscal 2013, much of which is to be financed by new debt.
That came less than three weeks after he unveiled a separate stimulus to bring the economy out of two decades of sluggishness.
Abe’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy has the public a little fretful, but has energized business, which sees a stable—and cheaper—power source as a vital part of the economic puzzle.
While economists’ assessments on Abe’s policies have been mixed, the headline Nikkei index on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has added almost 25% since his return to the helm of the LDP in September.
Abe has aggressively pushed for his nation to take a strong stance on the world stage, and said there is no room for compromise on islands disputed with China.
One of his most passionate causes has been the revision of the pacifist constitution imposed on a defeated nation by the United States in 1947, and on Thursday he told lawmakers he was starting on the road to revision.
The modest first step is a change that will lower the bar for future amendments, loosening the requirements for two-thirds majorities in both houses of parliament followed by a plebiscite.
His aim, he told voters in the run up to December’s poll, is to redefine Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, to make them more of a regular military, one he says will be more able to properly defend Japan from the challenges of the 21st Century.
A grinding territorial spat with China over a group of uninhabited, but possibly resource-rich islands has stiffened his resolve, despite warnings that continued inflexibility on both sides could lead to a misstep that brings armed conflict.
During his first tenure, he sparked controversy by saying he wanted to review the country’s previous admissions over wartime sex slavery.
At the time he argued there was no evidence Japan’s army directly coerced thousands of “comfort women” into brothels across Asia, prompting a call from US lawmakers for a fresh apology from Tokyo.
But thus far, he has bitten his tongue on such inflammatory issues.
During a television interview this week he suggested Japan and China should hold a summit and has sent his envoy to meet China’s president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, all the while insisting he will not budge on who owns the Senkakus, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
Analysts say he will likely keep his powder dry ahead of upper house elections due in the summer, where a creditable performance might give him the super majority he needs in both houses to drive through the legislation he wants.
© 2013 AFP