Abe vows to legalise Japan's military's role, raise sales tax

Mr Shinzo Abe (near left) and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba shaking hands before their joint press conference yesterday. Both are running for Liberal Democratic Party president. As the LDP is the ruling party, its president is the de facto J
Mr Shinzo Abe (near left) and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba shaking hands before their joint press conference yesterday. Both are running for Liberal Democratic Party president. As the LDP is the ruling party, its president is the de facto Japanese prime minister.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In LDP policy speech, Japan PM also says Sept 20 party election will be his last run for presidency

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reiterated his vow to revise the Constitution to clear up any doubts over the legality of the Self-Defence Force (SDF) if he wins the ruling party's leadership vote later this month.

He also pledged to raise the consumption tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in October next year after two postponements.

Mr Abe, 63, was delivering his first policy speech to Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers in the run-up to the Sept 20 election.

His rival for the top party post is former defence chief Shigeru Ishiba, 61. As the LDP is the ruling party, its president is Japan's de facto prime minister.

Mr Abe, who has been premier since December 2012, has consolidated power within the LDP to such an extent that political observers expect him to coast to victory. Anything less than a landslide win could render him a lame duck, they cautioned.

A historic win - LDP rules were rewritten last year to allow three, instead of two, consecutive three-year terms - will put Mr Abe in charge of the world's third-largest economy until 2021.

  • 3%

    Japan's economic growth in Q2, the fastest pace since early 2016.

     61%

    Percentage of LDP members who intend to vote for Mr Shinzo Abe, according to a Kyodo News poll published on Saturday.

"This presidential election is the last for me," he said yesterday, as he effectively put an end date to his tenure while laying out his plans for the next three years. He also vowed to right the ship as his government has been bruised by allegations of cronyism and corruption.

The two contenders squared off on the Constitution yesterday, with Mr Abe arguing that it was high time to bring the 71-year-old document up to date to "create an environment where the SDF personnel can proudly fulfil their duties".

Japan's pacifist Constitution, drafted by the United States after World War II, stipulates that armed forces will "never be maintained". But this has been reinterpreted to allow a military for self-defence purposes, with the SDF effectively stuck in a constitutional grey zone.

Mr Abe, who said the LDP will table its proposals to Parliament by the end of this year, wants to explicitly codify in the law that the SDF "protects the peace and independence of Japan". But Mr Ishiba argued that this change was unnecessary as "hardly anyone in Japan doubts its constitutionality".

The two also sparred over the track record of the Abenomics mix of economic policies. Mr Abe was buoyed by data yesterday that the economy grew 3 per cent in the second quarter - the fastest pace since early 2016.

He said Japan, after decades of a moribund economy, was gripped by pessimism and resignation over its future when he took over.

But he has since overseen the creation of 2.5 million jobs, while the economy expanded by 12.2 per cent even though the workforce shrank by 4.5 million people.

Mr Ishiba, who was LDP secretary-general from 2012 to 2014 and regional revitalisation minister from 2014 to 2016, however, questioned how much of this economic benefit can be felt by the average person, whose disposable income is falling.

Mr Abe, now in Vladivostok, Russia, for an economic forum, also said that he was the best man to build on Japan's warming ties with China and Russia, and to engage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A Kyodo News poll published on Saturday said 61 per cent of LDP members intend to vote for Mr Abe, while 28.6 per cent plan to cast their ballot for Mr Ishiba.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 'Abe vows to legalise military's role, raise sales tax'. Print Edition | Subscribe