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Abe re-elected prime minister in Japan

By Agencies in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2014-12-25 07:38

Previous Cabinet unchanged, except for appointment of defense minister

Shinzo Abe won endorsement on Wednesday to serve another term as prime minister after winning a renewed mandate from the electorate for his "Abenomics" strategies to revive the world's third-biggest economy.

Abe won 328 votes out of the 470 cast by lawmakers in a special session of the lower house on Wednesday. Since the ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds 326 lower house seats, two other lawmakers also cast votes for Abe.

Abe appointed a former military officer, Gen Nakatani, as defense minister but kept the other members of his previous Cabinet. They took office later in the day after donning formal attire for a ceremonial presentation to Emperor Akihito.

The victory by the LDP and its coalition partner, the Komei Party, was viewed as an endorsement by the public of Abe's strategies for reviving Japan's stagnant economy, despite a record low turnout.

Weak handling

Former defense minister Akinori Eto was among Cabinet ministers appointed in a reshuffle in early September. He was one of several ministers whose political funding reports were questioned by opposition lawmakers during the recent parliamentary session. Two resigned their Cabinet posts but were re-elected anyway.

The questions over political finance pulled Abe's popularity ratings lower and were likely a factor in his decision to call the snap election.

Analysts said Eto's handling of the questions was seen as too weak, and that Abe planned to appoint a stronger figure to help handle anticipated fierce questioning over defense-related issues in the next year's parliamentary debate.

Nakatani is a graduate of the National Defense Academy who attained the rank of first lieutenant before leaving the military. He served as defense minister under former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and supports a stronger role for Japan's military, which is constrained by the country's commitment to pacifism under the Constitution drafted by the US occupation forces following Japan's defeat in World War II.

Abe favors revising the Constitution as part of his effort to fortify Japan's military, after already revising policies to allow the defense forces to aid allies if they come under attack.

Two years after he first took office, Abe faces strong expectations for more aggressively tackling politically tough reforms for boosting the economy.

The economy fell into recession last year following a sales tax hike in April to 8 percent from 5 percent, prompting Abe to put off until 2017 a tax hike planned for October 2015.

Meanwhile, the central bank has stepped up its purchases of assets, pumping up to 80 trillion yen ($663 billion) a year into the economy to help drive prices higher and spur faster growth. A recent decision to shift more public pension money into stock investments is driving share prices higher.

Since Abe must call the next election by December 2018, he could have another four years to deliver on pledges to open markets and streamline regulations that have hindered Japan's competitiveness. So far, Japan's bureaucracy and its rural and commercial sectors have resisted major changes, foiling earlier reform efforts.

AP - Reuters

 Abe re-elected prime minister in Japan

Gen Nakatani, Japan's new defense minister, is surrounded by reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected. Thomas Peter / Reuters

(China Daily 12/25/2014 page11)

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