Very right wing indeed…China and S.Korea are already privately pissed I’m sure.

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September 26, 2006
Abe Is Elected Japanese Prime Minister
By MARTIN FACKLER

TOKYO, Sept. 26 — Shinzo Abe, a popular nationalist who has vowed to make Japan more assertive globally, became the country’s prime minister today, and named a Cabinet packed with social and foreign policy conservatives.

Mr. Abe, 52, bowed deeply in front of fellow lawmakers after winning 339 votes in the 476-member lower house, which selects the prime minister. Earlier in the day, Mr. Abe’s predecessor and political mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, vacated the prime minister’s residence in central Tokyo after five and a half years that saw him win public adulation for making painful economic reforms.

Mr. Abe was virtually ensured to succeed Mr. Koizumi after winning last week’s leadership election in the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan almost continuously for the past half century.

As Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War II, and the first to be born after the war, Mr. Abe’s ascension appears to mark a changing of the guard in a country that has kept a low-profile in international affairs since its defeat in 1945.

After winning the vote in parliament, Mr. Abe (pronounced AH-bay) immediately began making changes aimed at strengthening the prime minister’s office, which in the past has been a weak center in a nation dominated by powerful bureaucrats and entrenched special interests.

“The new era of Abe begins,” proclaimed Hidenao Nakagawa, the Liberal Democratic Party secretary general.

One of Mr. Abe’s first steps was to increase the number of advisors to the prime minister, adding new posts for aides in charge of national security, education and the North Korean abduction issue. Members of Mr. Abe’s staff have said these aides will have their own staff of experts and researchers, allowing them to draw up policy directly without relying on ministry bureaucrats.

“The prime minister’s office should be built into a control center for the whole nation,” said Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the newly appointed chief Cabinet secretary. “The office will put forward policies based on strategic thinking.”

In particular, the security advisor will eventually have a staff of several dozen, with the announced aim of creating a Japanese-version of the U.S. National Security Council. This has led many here to comment that Mr. Abe was trying to make the traditionally weak prime minister’s office look more like a seat of strong executive power.

“Mr. Abe is definitely trying to build something that looks like the White House,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of politics at Nihon University.

After winning leadership of the ruling party last week, Mr. Abe reportedly spent several days holed up in his country retreat near Mt. Fuji, deciding whom to include in his new Cabinet.

Mr. Iwai and others said Mr. Abe’s choices reflected a hawkish bent to the new administration. Most were also in their 50s, a decade younger than many Cabinets in the past.

One of the most watched appointments was to the new post of national security advisor. This went to Yuriko Koike, a 54-year-old former television news reporter who has been a vocal supporter of economic sanctions on North Korea since it admitted kidnapping Japanese citizens two decades ago.

Another was the selection of Eriko Yamatani to the post of education advisor. A 56-year-old former reporter for the Sankei Shimbun, a right-wing daily, Ms. Yamatani has been a vocal critic of sexual education and teaching of “excessive” gender equality in schools. The incoming state minister in charge of gender equality, Sanae Takaichi, was another social conservative who opposed allowing women to legally keep their maiden name after marriage.

The choice of Mr. Shiozaki as chief Cabinet secretary, Japan’s equivalent of the White House chief of staff, was widely viewed as a move to strengthen Mr. Abe’s personal control. Mr. Shiozaki, 55, is a Harvard-trained former central banker and close ally of Mr. Abe who is widely respected among younger Liberal Democratic lawmakers.

In contrast, the new Cabinet featured no political heavy-weights in top economic posts, reflecting what some economists and political scientists said was a shift in priorities toward foreign policy and national security. This was a departure from Mr. Koizumi, who had filled economic posts with prominent reformers like Heizo Takenaka, a former economics professor now widely credited with fixing Japan’s long bad loan-ridden banking system.

Mr. Takenaka had already said he was retiring from politics when Mr. Koizumi stepped down. The most prominent appointee was Hiroko Ota, an economics professor and confidante of Mr. Takenaka, who became economic policy minister. Economists and political scientists said her role would likely be to keep current reforms in place, but not add new ones.

“The new Cabinet disappoints,” Richard Jerram, an economist in the Tokyo office of Macquarie Securities, wrote in a report. The lack of emphasis on economic positions “probably reflects the fact that this will not be an important focus for the new administration.”

Instead, many here believe one of Mr. Abe’s top priorities will likely be revising the pacifist Constitution, written by Japan’s postwar American occupiers, to permit the country to have full-fledged armed forces. Mr. Abe has also spoken in favor of a new law to allow Japan to send troops overseas on peacekeeping missions, and of closer military cooperation with Washington, Tokyo’s most important ally.

At the same time, many here also hope that Mr. Abe can smooth relations with South Korea and China, which soured after Mr. Koizumi paid visits to a controversial Shinto shrine honoring Japan’s war dead. But the new prime minister risks angering Asian neighbors with his calls for Japanese schools to teach more patriotism and traditional values, at a time when many of Japan’s former wartime victims accuse the country of whitewashing military atrocities from its textbooks.

The Liberal Democratic Party is also counting on Mr. Abe to help lead it to victory in upper house elections next year, the first since the exit of the charismatic Mr. Koizumi.

Besides being popular among younger voters, Mr. Abe also boasts an impeccable nationalist pedigree that appeals to veterans’ groups and others in the ruling party’s right wing. In speeches, he frequently refers to his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, a wartime economic ministry official who was jailed briefly by the Americans as a war criminal and later became prime minister.

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