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Editorial: Japan needs to overcome political stagnation in 'no option but Abe' era

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history on Nov. 20, surpassing the previous record held by Taro Katsura who had three stints in the post from the late Meiji era through Taisho era.

When Abe returned to power in December 2012 he would not have imagined that his tenure would last this long.

Certainly, a long-running government has its own merits of allowing its head to engage in policy measures in a stable manner. However, while Prime Minister Abe has introduced highly controversial security legislation and other measures with a high-handed approach, it cannot be said that he has put priority on medium- to long-term challenges such as the ongoing population decline in Japan.

Conversely, his arrogance has become more conspicuous. This has been epitomized by his alleged exploitation of a publicly funded annual cherry blossom-viewing party for his personal gain.

It appears that Abe has viewed those who do not support him as his enemies and would not listen to their criticism against him, while regarding his supporters as his allies and giving preferential treatment to them. The scandal surrounding the cherry blossom-viewing party highlights Abe's dichotomic approach and disregard for fairness.

Unless the prime minister provides careful explanations about the scandal before the budget committees in both chambers of the Diet without covering up the truth, he would not be able to move on.

While the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- headed by Abe -- has scored back-to-back victories in national elections, the lingering disappointment among the public in the former Democratic Party of Japan-led administration (2009-2012) has played a major part in the LDP's success in recent years. In public opinion polls, the most common answer to the question of why the respondents support the Cabinet was because they had "no one else or no other party to support." In no way can we call this positive support.

It is necessary for Prime Minister Abe to get rid of his arrogance and carry out a rigorous examination of his administration's handling of domestic and foreign affairs.

One of the questions that needs to be answered is whether the "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe administration has produced tangible results. Obviously, share prices have become stable and major corporations have generally seen their earnings rise, but there has been no wage growth. General members of the public can hardly feel the economic recovery, while many find the gap between the haves and have-nots is only widening. People find social security measures unreliable and harbor anxieties about their future.

On the diplomatic front, Abe has maintained amicable relations with U.S. President Donald Trump. Turning to Russia, however, Japan is getting further away from any settlement of the Northern Territories dispute, even though Tokyo has conceded to the point of sealing off its long-held claim that the Russian-controlled four islands off Hokkaido are "an inherent part of Japan's territory." With regard to the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, which the government labels as a top priority matter, there are no signs of a resolution to the decades-long stand-off.

Abe has until fall 2021 before his tenure as LDP president expires. He has stated that he will not seek a fourth term and may be hankering to leave his political legacy by achieving his cherished goal of amending the war-renouncing Constitution during the rest of his time in office.

However, what he should prioritize first and foremost are efforts to recover public confidence in politics. It is also about time for the LDP to start evaluating post-Abe hopefuls. The current situation wherein Abe boasts about his predominance and people support his Cabinet just because they have no other options to turn to only results in political stagnation.

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