The discussion on extending the term of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s leader reached a conclusion in a little more than a month, underscoring the dominance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose term was supposed to expire in September 2018.
"We judged that the discussion reached a conclusion as there was no opposition. It was a unanimous decision," LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told reporters on Oct. 26 after a plenary meeting of the Headquarters for Party and Political System Reform Implementation.
The matter was put on the table in July when LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai suggested he would approve extending the party president's two three-year consecutive terms. Komura then launched the reform headquarters, which led the discussion. Starting with the headquarters' first meeting on Sept. 20, panel executives met a total of four times. There was hardly any objection to extending Abe's term at those meetings.
While what made the speedy conclusion possible was the fact that there are no strong rivals to Prime Minister Abe within the LDP who can threaten his dominance, it is unusual for party bigwigs such as Nikai to collectively create an environment for a term limit extension. The move could be seen as shattering an LDP tradition in which the party used in-house power struggles to vitalize itself. A former prime minister laments the current situation in the party, saying, "Everyone is currying favor with Prime Minister Abe and it's pathetic."
Extending the term limit to a total of nine years -- three consecutive three-year terms -- raises the possibility the Abe administration could go ahead with constitutional amendments and see the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics take place while Abe is in office.
Nevertheless, the term extension does not guarantee that Abe will have a third three three-year term. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga pointed out at a news conference that the prime minister needs to overcome the high hurdle of a public verdict in a Diet election.
The result of the next House of Representatives election will directly lead to an evaluation of Prime Minister Abe's unifying force. Furthermore, the House of Councillors election is scheduled for the summer of 2019 -- during his potential third term. With the consumption tax hike from the current 8 percent to 10 percent slated for October 2019 following the upper house race, the Abe administration, which has touted economic revitalization as its top priority will be put to the test over its ability to execute effective economic measures.
A source close to the prime minister said, "It requires hard work to maintain a winning streak in elections. A single loss could spark a call for the prime minister to step down."