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Japan’s PM Abe heads for extended term after party vote, faces Trump trade challenge

Japan’s PM Abe heads for extended term after party vote, faces Trump trade challenge

TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a ruling party leadership vote on Thursday, setting him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier and try to cement his legacy, including by revising the pacifist constitution.

If Abe, who resigned abruptly after a troubled 2006-2007 term, stays in office through November 2019, he will have exceeded the 2,886 days marked by Taro Katsura in the early 20th century.

“I want to tackle constitutional reform together with all of you,” Abe told his Liberal Democratic Party after the vote.

First, however, he has the immediate challenge of a likely summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next week, when he will face pressure to cut Japan’s $69 billion surplus with its key ally, nearly two-thirds from auto exports.

Abe must also keep economic growth on track with a dwindling policy tool-kit. After years of heavy money printing, the Bank of Japan has little ammunition left. Japan’s huge public debt and rising social welfare costs for a fast-ageing population also leave Abe with little room to ramp up fiscal spending.

Abe, who surged back to power in 2012 promising to reboot the economy and strengthen defense, defeated former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba in the LDP leadership election.

Abe won 553 votes to Ishiba’s 254. Of the 810 votes up for grabs from LDP parliamentarians and rank-and-file party members, 807 were valid.

Abe is assured the premiership because his LDP-led coalition controls parliament.

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