Surprise! It’s Abe.
I mean, the next president of the LDP and therefore Prime Minister of Japan will be Shinzo Abe. He got 66% of the vote. Of course, that’s internal. The public has been ambivalent, despite Abe’s Clinton-ish way of addressing himself to the average middle-class citizen and even as reports hammered away at the near-inevitability of an Abe win.
It now remains to be seen how his “beautiful country” plan will take shape. He’s promised to deepen ties with the US while repairing relations with the PRC and the Koreas. Sounds good, but it’s hard to tell what concrete approach he plans to take. He’s been one of the highest-profile members of the Koizumi administration to make pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is hardly a way to endear oneself to the rest of East Asia. He’s also in favor of amending the constitution, and there’s little doubt he’s referring to Article 9 (which contains the non-aggression clause). How far does he want to go in restoring military capability to Japan? No one’s sure.
Economically, the guy’s a wild card, too. Koizumi was an economic liberal from the get-go; he brought in Heizo Takenaka and, as much as possible, gave him carte blanche when it came to banking and finance reform. The bills for privatization of Japan Post ended up going through a predictable defanging process on the way to ratification, but Koizumi was willing to draw a line in the sand over them. Abe wants to control deflation, doesn’t think the Allied military tribunal that sentenced Japanese war criminals (yeah, I’m begging the question there…you know what I mean) was just, and doesn’t seem to want schoolchildren learning about comfort women during World War II.
Since it’s not clear what his prime policy directives are, it’s not clear what his deal-breakers are. He’s obviously pretty nationalist by personal conviction, but he lacks the long-standing network of powerful connections to make it likely that he’ll be able to push through controversial pet proposals. He doesn’t seem to have the force of personality to convince people to put aside their doubts, but he will need allies–the LDP is not in the most secure position itself. We should begin to see pretty rapidly what will be the driving force behind his policies when his beliefs hit reality. You can bet that the rest of East Asia, in addition to the Japanese public, will be watching.