Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the fourth longest-serving premier in postwar Japan on Dec. 5, with 1,807 days in office including his first stint as prime minister for a year from 2006. Abe's tenure surpassed that for former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who was in office from 1982-1987.
The Abe government is the first long-serving administration in some years as, until the second Abe Cabinet was launched in late 2012, Japan's prime ministers changed only about a year after taking office.
Abe, who had campaigned to "break away from the postwar regime," and Nakasone, who aimed for "total reassessment of postwar politics," have common goals such as making revisions to the postwar Constitution.
Just like under the Nakasone administration, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is predominant in the Diet now, as the LDP regained a majority in the House of Councillors in the July 2016 election for the first time in 27 years.
However, questions remain about the achievements made by the Abe government, as compared with the Nakasone administration, which carried out drastic administrative reform such as the privatization of the Japanese National Railways. The Abe administration took advantage of the LDP's predominance in the legislature to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and to steamroll security legislation. However, the government has failed to make achievements in its economic policies, although the prime minister has pledged to place top priority on economic revitalization.
It's true that share prices, which Abe apparently pays close attention to, remain high, but it seems that not many people are feeling a virtuous cycle of the economy thanks to "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe government. The government has kept postponing the target of a 2 percent inflation rate and while the prime minister has taken pride in an increase in Japan's tax revenue as the result of economic recovery, the national government's general account tax revenue is expected to turn downward for the first time in seven years. If the government issues more bonds to make up for a tax revenue shortfall, it could further worsen the state fiscal situation.
Abe has created many slogans, such as "the three arrows of Abenomics," "revitalization of local economies," "women's empowerment," "dynamic engagement of all citizens" and "working style reform." Policy measures to achieve these, however, have failed to produce sufficient results. The Abe government has an opportunity to carry out structural and regulatory reform, which could adversely affect some members of the public, with its solid power foundation. However, none of these measures are a match for the administrative reform carried out under the Nakasone government.
Nearly four years have passed since the second Abe Cabinet was launched. Nevertheless, the prime minister has repeatedly said, "Abenomics is only half complete." This is difficult to understand.
Since the LDP is poised to extend the upper limit on the tenure of the party president from two three-year terms to three three-year terms, Abe may stay in office until the autumn of 2021. If he were to achieve this, not only would he be in power longer than Eisaku Sato, the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan, but he could become the longest-serving premier since the Meiji period.
Surely, Abe cannot be saying Abenomics is half complete on the assumption that he will stay in power for such a long period. We have long passed a period where he expects us to place high expectations on the future of Abenomics because it's "only half complete."
The Abe government should place priority on reassessing the economic policy measures it has implemented over the past four years and showing the outcome to the public. Dec. 5, when Abe became the fourth longest-serving postwar prime minister, should be a milestone toward that end.