Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won re-election as leader of his ruling party Thursday, setting him on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier and realise his dream of reforming the constitution.
Abe, 63, secured 553 votes from lawmakers and party members against 254 won by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba in a two-horse race for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.
The win effectively hands Abe three more years as prime minister, giving him the chance of breaking the record for the nation’s longest-serving prime ministership held by Taro Katsura, a revered politician who served three times between 1901 and 1913.
Amid economic and social security concerns, Abe aims to use the election to push his dream of reforming the country’s post-World War II pacifist constitution.
Nationalist Abe has frequently voiced his wish to rewrite the charter, imposed by the victorious US occupiers, which forces the country to “forever renounce war” and dictates that armed forces will “never be maintained”.
Abe insists any changes would merely remove the country’s well-equipped Self-Defence Forces from the constitutional paradox whereby they should not technically exist.
“It’s time to stipulate both the Self-Defence Forces and the protection of Japan’s peace and independence in the constitution,” Abe said in his last stump speech in Tokyo.
But any changes to the text would be hugely sensitive in pacifist Japan and almost certainly greeted with fury in China and the Koreas, 20th-century victims of Japanese military aggression.