Shinzo Abe, a comeback kid with conservative agenda

Japan’s Shinzo Abe may be thoroughly modern when it comes to pitching his policies on a widely followed Facebook page, but his conservative agenda for shedding the shackles of post-war pacifism is one that he learned at his grandfather’s knee.

The dapper, soft-spoken Abe first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War Two. But he quit suddenly after a year plagued by scandals in his cabinet, public outrage at lost pension records and his Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) big defeat in an election for parliament’s upper house.

Now with a hawkish Abe again at the helm, the LDP — ignominiously ousted in 2009 — surged back to power on Sunday, giving Abe a rare second chance to lead the world’s third-largest economy and its 10th most populous nation.

“I have experienced failure as a politician and for that very reason, I am ready to give everything for Japan,” Abe wrote in a recent article, referring to his September 2007 resignation, which he blamed on a chronic intestinal ailment. “If one lists the many problems Japan faces... they all stem from one root cause,” he wrote.

“Haven’t we put off problems without clarifying Japan’s will to protect the lives and assets of its people and territory with its own hands, and merely accepted the benefits of economic prosperity?” added Abe, who wants to loosen the limits of Japan’s post-WW II pacifist constitution.

Abe, 58, hails from a wealthy political family that included a foreign minister father and a great-uncle who served as premier. But when it comes to policies, his grandfather, the late prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, seems to have mattered most.

Kishi, a wartime cabinet minister who was imprisoned but never tried as a war criminal after WW II, served as prime minister from 1957 to 1960, when he had to resign due to a public furor over a renegotiated US-Japan security pact. Five years old at the time, Abe heard the sound of violent clashes between police and leftists protesting against the pact outside parliament as he played on his grandfather’s lap.

Kishi tried without success to revise Japan’s US-drafted 1947 constitution, become an equal partner with the US and adopt a more assertive diplomacy — all central to Abe’s agenda both in 2006 and today.

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