TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has entered its sixth year since he returned to power.
If Abe wins the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) presidential election this autumn for his third term, his tenure will be extended until September 2021. In 2019, when his days in office will surpass the record tenure of 2,886 days set by Prime Minister Taro Katsura, Abe will be able to envision an ultra-long-term administration.
It is important for Abe to achieve concrete results while utilising his stable political foundation and setting long-term policy goals. He is called on to squarely grapple difficult challenges, such as striking a balance between achieving an exit from deflation and fiscal soundness, and also establishing a sustainable social security system.
In his New Year's news conference, Abe said the ordinary Diet session to be convened Jan 22 will be positioned as "the parliamentary session on work-style reforms," and that his government will seek to "realise a society in which all citizens can be dynamically engaged by enabling them to have diverse work styles."
Abe has a record of five straight victories in national elections and enjoys high approval ratings. He has had good relations with LDP factions, except the one led by Shigeru Ishiba. Potential problems lying ahead of the LDP presidential election could be "arrogance" and "laxity" resulting from his long rule of the government. These factors contributed to the LDP's crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election last July.
Abe must steer his administration in a humble manner, without being overconfident about the LDP's overwhelming numerical dominance in the Diet. In Diet interpellations, it is imperative that Abe answers respectfully and sincerely, without unilaterally presenting his arguments.
Under the parliamentary system of government, it is fundamentally desirable for the prime minister's office, rather than a political party, to lead policy decisions.
But the process leading to the LDP's abrupt announcement of a policy to provide free education at all stages, including at university, in its campaign pledges for the House of Representatives election last year - and also the compilation of a policy package for that purpose - was hasty. There are many questionable points about this policy package, in which pork-barreling aspects are conspicuous.
The prime minister must listen to opinions both in and outside the LDP, and take stock of the order of its policy priorities and their cost effectiveness, with a cool head.
The LDP presidential poll must be used to check the key policies of the Abe administration and conduct a constructive debate about them.
The government will establish as early as early this month a committee to study, among other things, the way a series of ceremonies should be held for the abdication of the Emperor scheduled for the end of April next year. The name of the new era is planned to be announced this year.
There are many subjects to be discussed, including how the abdication ceremony - the first in about 200 years - should be positioned, and what the activities of the joko, the title to be given to the abdicated Emperor, should be.
The government must proceed meticulously with its preparations and take all possible measures for smoothly realising the Emperor's abdication, the Crown Prince's ascension to the throne and the changing of the era name.
The course of discussions on amending the Constitution will be closely watched during the ordinary Diet session. At the press conference, Abe showed his willingness to revise the nation's top law, saying "We will show the public the shape of our ideal constitution."
At the end of 2017, the LDP sorted out and announced key discussion points on four topics for proposed revisions to the Constitution. Regarding specifying a constitutional basis for the Self-Defense Forces, which is a focus of revisions, the LDP has offered two proposals.
One proposal would retain Paragraph 2 of Article 9, which stipulates the nation will never maintain "war potential," and add a stipulation enshrining the status of the SDF. The other proposal would eliminate the second paragraph.
The additional stipulation option would clarify the constitutionality of the SDF without requiring any change in the government's current interpretation of the Constitution. It would certainly attract less resistance than the proposal to do away with Paragraph 2.
Regarding the proposed creation of a state of emergency clause that would cover situations such as the aftermath of a major natural disaster, the LDP has offered a proposal that would authorize the temporary extension of Diet lawmakers' terms, and a proposal that would concentrate more authority with the government to enable the efficient provision of relief and support to disaster victims.
The nation must avoid a situation in which disaster-hit areas are left without Diet members because national elections cannot be held in those areas. Many constitutions of other countries contain clauses stipulating limits can temporarily be placed on some private rights so help can be provided to even more disaster victims. This issue should carefully be explained to gain greater understanding from the public.
Komeito, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and Nippon Ishin no Kai should not stand on the sidelines while the LDP moves forward. Each party should contribute its own revision proposals and substantially deepen discussions on this issue.
In 2016, Britain held a national referendum on whether to remain in the European Union, and Italy held a referendum on a series of changes to its Constitution. Both referendums produced results that went against the intention of the administrations in power at that time and triggered major political upheaval.
It is important for every Japanese political party to make efforts to build a broad consensus, given the high hurdle for securing a majority in a top law referendum.
The breakup of the Democratic Party (DP) last autumn and the results of October's House of Representatives election reinforced the trend of Japan having many weak opposition parties. Can these parties realign to form a force capable of competing against the huge ruling coalition?
In late 2017, the DP sounded out the CDPJ and Kibo about forming a united parliamentary group in the Diet. This approach was prompted by a sense of crisis that the DP "could not perform well on its own" in the unified local elections and House of Councillors election scheduled for 2019. Former DP leader Renho and a string of other lawmakers have left the party and joined the CDPJ.
The CDPJ rejected the DP's approach, saying it was "impossible to form a parliamentary group with Kibo." Kibo also took a cautious position on the tie-up, so discussions with the DP ended inconclusively.
Even if the DP attempts to reassemble former DP members, it will never get support from the public as long as differences in their views on the nation's right of collective self-defense and other issues remain unaddressed. The opposition parties must keep firmly in mind the fact that any reorganization must, above all else, be premised on agreement over principles and policies.
The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.