Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions during a news conference at the Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters in Tokyo on Sept. 20 after winning a third term as party president. (Shinnosuke Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Winning nearly 70 percent of votes in an election generally signals a mandate for the victor, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces high hurdles after winning his third term as ruling party president.

Abe had expected to trounce his only challenger, Shigeru Ishiba, in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election on Sept. 20.

Although he won handily, the prime minister failed to gain overwhelming support, particularly among local party members and supporters, a signal that many within the LDP have grown disgruntled with their long-time leader.

Ishiba’s stronger-than-expected showing could have an adverse effect on Abe’s handling of key issues on the dock of his administration: constitutional revision and the Upper House election next year.

The prime minister has taken a heavy-handed approach to dealing with critics and politicians in the opposition camp. But he may not be able to use such tactics to quell internal dissent over his leadership style as well as his connections to a lingering pair of suspected nepotism scandals.

“At the time of the Lower House election last year, I also felt that about half of our supporters did not trust Abe,” said a lawmaker of the LDP faction headed by Hiroyuki Hosoda. “This is the current situation in our party.”

At a news conference after his election victory on Sept. 20, Abe indicated he would reshuffle the Cabinet and the LDP leadership lineup on Oct. 1 after attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“I will choose Cabinet members from as wide a range as possible after firmly solidifying its foundation,” Abe said.

That foundation will likely consist of key members retaining their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.

Given the breakdown of the election results, Abe will likely rely more heavily on his core support base, namely the mainstream factions of the LDP and party heavyweights, such as Aso and Nikai.

Five major party factions supported Abe in the election, helping him to secure more than 80 percent of votes from LDP Diet members.

Abe also said on Sept. 20 that he will convene an extraordinary Diet session in autumn and submit a supplementary budget plan to deal with the recent series of natural disasters, including the destructive earthquake that hit Hokkaido on Sept. 6.

As for his long-desired plan to revise the Constitution, Abe said, “The revisions were the biggest point of dispute in the presidential election.”

During the election campaign, Abe emphasized his plan to have the LDP submit possible constitutional amendments to the next Diet session. Ishiba, meanwhile, criticized Abe’s revision plan as not going far enough, and the challenger said other issues, such as fixing the vote-disparity gap, should take precedence.

The Abe camp believed that an overwhelming election victory would enable the prime minister to contain objections from Ishiba and other LDP members. The incumbent’s side had expected to gain 70 percent of votes among local party members and associates.

However, Abe won only 224 local votes, or 55 percent of the total. And although he obtained 329 votes from party lawmakers, Abe lost some support from among the 337 Diet members who had indicated they would vote for him as of Sept. 11.

“Now that we know the election results, we have to unite and go forward toward the big policy,” Abe said.

He added that the LDP will discuss coordination with junior coalition partner Komeito over the constitutional revision plan, including the addition of wording to war-renouncing Article 9 to clarify the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Critics have said Abe is rushing his constitutional amendment plan to avoid any possible setbacks from the Upper House election to be held in summer 2019.

Before a referendum on constitutional revision can be held, the proposed changes must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses of the Diet. The ruling coalition currently holds comfortable majorities in the two chambers.

Given Ishiba’s showing in the LDP election, Abe could face difficulties maintaining unity.

After the results came in on Sept. 20, some LDP members said the party could face an uphill battle in the Upper House election and beyond.

“No (LDP) member wants to fight in the next Lower House election under Prime Minister Abe,” said a Lower House member belonging to the faction led by Fumio Kishida.