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Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006

Abe's conservative lineage runs deep

His prime minister grandfather, ambitious father sowed political seed By

Staff writer

All three candidates vying to be the next prime minister come from prominent political families, but none has a pedigree approaching that of Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the apparent shoo-in to replace Junichiro Koizumi.

His politically blue blood is one of the reasons he is so popular, but at the same time his forebears, particularly his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and later known as a "specter" pulling strings from behind the scenes, nurtured his conservative stance.

But it also has created a dilemma for Abe, with his personal affection for Kishi forcing him to take an ambiguous stance on Japanese leaders' responsibility for World War II.

From the start Abe has been way out in front of the other candidates -- Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki -- and is widely expected to cruise to victory in the Sept. 20 election to pick the next president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and therefore become prime minister.

"He is popular because of his modest attitude as well as his belief that he should stick to his convictions as a politician. He learned that belief from his grandfather," said Fukashi Horie, a former political science professor at Keio University and now president of Shobi University.

Abe's persistent advocacy of revising the pacifist Constitution was reflected in the policy platform he announced last Friday when he officially said he was running in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

"The Constitution was written when Japan was occupied," Abe said. "So I mean for the Japanese people to join hands in setting our future course."

His grandfather Kishi, known as a specter because of the political power he still wielded after resigning as prime minister, actively promoted adopting a Constitution written by Japanese.

Kishi is also known for his efforts to enact the security treaty between Japan and the United States -- called the "anpo" treaty in Japanese -- amid strident and often violent opposition.

The pact was a revised version of the former treaty, signed in 1951, that allowed the U.S. armed forces to stay in Japan but did not oblige the U.S. to defend Japan. Under the terms of the new treaty, Japan and the U.S. must cooperate in defending Japan.

"He (Abe) looked very much influenced by his grandfather in terms of foreign policy and the anpo," said Hirotsugu Akiu, a classmate of Abe's at Seikei University.

When Abe was 6 years old, he often visited his grandfather's residence in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, where rioters opposed to the new treaty set fire to pieces of paper and flung them into the garden.

"Since I was a kid, I have known that my grandfather was called the 'embodiment of conservativeness' and 'a wire puller in the political world,' " Abe wrote in his recently published book "Utsukushii kuni e" ("To the Beautiful Country"). He continued, "I felt repelled, so that's why I feel rather close to conservatism."

Abe also wrote in the book: "I was proud of his calm attitude" because his grandfather appeared very sincere and thought about the future of the country constantly.

But what makes Kishi controversial is the fact that he was taken into custody as a suspected Class-A war criminal because he was a Cabinet member under wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. Kishi was not charged and was released in 1948.

Kishi's history is considered a primary source of Abe's conservative take on war-related issues.

For example, Abe is a regular visitor to Yasukuni Shrine, the spiritual pillar of the country's wartime militarism.

Apparently out of diplomatic concerns, however, he has remained mum on whether he will visit the Shinto shrine if he becomes prime minister.

Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to the shrine have angered China and South Korea, which contend the visits demonstrate a lack of repentance for wartime atrocities.

In another show of his conservative roots, Abe, along with then agriculture minister Shoichi Nakagawa, reportedly pressured national broadcaster NHK to censor a program aired in 2001 on Japan's responsibility for forcing women in other Asian countries into sexual servitude for its soldiers.

Abe's father, former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, also had an impact on him. His death stimulated Abe's passion to grab the top spot; he died of cancer amid strong expectations that he would be the next prime minister.

"I pledged when I was first elected that I would carry out my father's wish," Abe told an audience in his home district in Yamaguchi Prefecture last month.

His family tree does not end there. Kishi's younger brother is Eisaku Sato, who was prime minister from 1964 to 1972 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

Ironically, Abe also has a remote link to Aso, who is no slouch himself when it comes to blue blood. Aso's grandfather was Shigeru Yoshida, who was prime minister from 1946 to 1954. Aso's aunt was married to Kishi's cousin.

Aso's great-grandfather established a mining company and a financial combine in Kyushu that reportedly pressed Korean people into forced labor at a coal mine before World War II.

Shobi University's Horie said growing up in a political family benefits politicians' ability to make critical decisions.

It is no coincidence that Koizumi, Abe and the other two major candidates all come from political families, experts say.

Hiroyuki Arai, an Upper House member known for his close friendship with Abe, said: "His grandfather moved forward with the treaty at the risk of his life as a politician. His father wished to become the prime minister to make Japan better, but his life was cut short because of his illness.

"I believe Abe learned strength and kindness when he spent time with them."

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