Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, speaks during day two of the Eastern Economic Forum. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Abe Set to Win Japan Party Vote, Extending Six-Year Run in Power

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to win his third straight three-year term as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday, setting him up to become the country’s longest-serving premier.

The 405 LDP lawmakers are set to cast their votes beginning at 1 p.m. local time, with results expected after 2 p.m. A further 405 votes are divided among regional party members, who have already cast their ballots.

Abe is expected to take about 70 percent of the parliamentarians’ votes and some 51 percent of the rank-and-file ballots, according to research published Monday by the Yomiuri newspaper. That would put him well ahead of his sole rival, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Victory would clear the way for the 63-year-old Abe to carry on with an ultra-loose monetary policy that has helped Japan achieve its strongest period of economic growth since the 1990s. A crumbling opposition and the lack of credible rivals within his own party helped him overcome scandals that prompted calls for his resignation earlier this year.

The LDP, which won a general election last October, has governed Japan for most of its post-war history so its leadership elections often effectively select the prime minister. Many view Ishiba as relatively hawkish on fiscal and monetary policy, and a relatively strong showing by him could weigh on Japan’s stock market.

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Abe’s support has recovered from the cronyism scandals that dogged him earlier this year, creeping up to 41.7 percent in a Jiji news poll taken Sept. 7-10 -- the first time it has exceeded 40 percent since February. The percentage of respondents saying they disapproved of him fell to 36.6 percent.

Abe has vowed to focus his next term on tackling the aging country’s demographic woes and building up infrastructure to counter natural disasters, while also trying to change its pacifist constitution. Japan has been battered in recent months by flooding, an earthquake and Typhoon Jebi, which pummeled its third-largest city, Osaka, earlier this month.

Other challenges loom after the vote. The next round of talks on Japan’s trade surplus with the U.S. is expected by the end of September, after a fresh series of threats from President Donald Trump.

The LDP is also battling to keep a candidate who wants to shift a U.S. Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa from being elected governor there in a Sept. 30 election. Abe may choose to delay an expected cabinet reshuffle until after that date, Kyodo News reported earlier this month.

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