Shinzo Abe. Photo by Reuters
The lower house of Japan's parliament has approved Shinzo
Abe as prime minister, giving the hawkish lawmaker a second
chance at the top job as the country battles deflation and
confronts a rising China.
Abe, 58, has promised aggressive monetary easing by the Bank
of Japan and big fiscal spending by the debt-laden government
to slay deflation and weaken the yen to make Japanese exports
The grandson of a former prime minister, Abe has staged a
stunning comeback five years after abruptly resigning as
premier in the wake of a one-year term troubled partly by
scandals in his cabinet and public outrage over lost pension
His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged back to power in
this month's election, three years after a crushing defeat at
the hands of the novice Democratic Party of Japan.
"I want to learn from the experience of my previous
administration, including the setbacks, and aim for a stable
government," Abe told reporters before the lower house voted
him in as Japan's seventh prime minister in six years.
Abe looks set to pick a cabinet of close allies leavened by
some LDP rivals to fend off the criticism of cronyism that
dogged his first administration.
Japanese media have said Abe will name former prime minister
Taro Aso, 72, as finance minister, ex-trade and industry
minister Akira Amari as minister in charge of a new economic
revival headquarters and policy veteran Toshimitsu Motegi as
trade minister. Motegi will also be tasked with formulating
energy policy in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear
disaster last year.
Loyal Abe backer Yoshihide Suga is expected to become chief
cabinet secretary, a key post combining the job of top
government spokesman with responsibility for coordinating
Others who share Abe's agenda to revise the pacifist
constitution and rewrite Japan's wartime history with a less
apologetic tone have also been floated for posts.
"These are really LDP right-wingers and close friends of
Abe," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. "It
really doesn't look very fresh at all."
China ties, July election
The yen has weakened about 9.8 percent against the dollar
since Abe was elected LDP leader in September. On Wednesday,
it hit a 20-month low of 85.38 yen against the greenback on
expectations of aggressive monetary policy easing.
Abe has threatened to revise a law guaranteeing the Bank of
Japan's (BOJ) independence if it refuses to set a 2 percent
BOJ minutes released on Wednesday showed the central bank was
already pondering policy options in November, concerned about
looming risks to the economy. The BOJ stood pat at its
November rate review meeting but eased this month in response
to intensifying pressure from Abe.
Abe also promised during the election campaign to take a
tough stance in territorial rows with China and South Korea
over separate chains of tiny islands, while placing priority
on strengthening Japan's alliance with the United States.
Japanese media said Abe would appoint two low-profile
officials to the foreign and defence portfolios.
Itsunori Onodera, 52, who was senior vice foreign minister in
Abe's first cabinet, will become defence minister while Fumio
Kishida, 55, a former state minister for issues related to
Okinawa island - host to the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan -
will be appointed to the top diplomatic post, the reports
Abe, who hails from a wealthy political family, made his
first overseas visit to China to repair chilly ties when he
took office in 2006, but has said his first trip this time
will be to the United States.
He may, however, put contentious issues that could upset key
trade partner China and fellow-U.S. ally South Korea on the
backburner to concentrate on boosting the economy, now in its
fourth recession since 2000, ahead of an election for
parliament's upper house in July.
The LDP and its small ally, the New Komeito party, won a
two-thirds majority in the 480-seat lower house in the
December 16 election. That allows the lower house to enact
bills rejected by the upper house, where the LDP-led block
lacks a majority.
But the process is cumbersome, so the LDP is keen to win a
majority in the upper house to end the parliamentary deadlock
that has plagued successive governments since 2007.
"The LDP is still under the critical eyes of the public. We
need to earn their trust by get things done one by one," Abe
told party lawmakers ahead of the lower house vote.
"First on the agenda is economic recovery, beating deflation
and correcting a firm yen and getting the economy back on the
growth path. If we don't pursue this target, an upper house
election next year will be a tough one for us."