Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in history, Shinzo Abe, 65, announced his resignation on August 28. Referring to his health problems, he stated during a press conference in Tokyo that to do not make mistakes in making important decisions, he was unable to keep faith with the mandate received from citizens.Given health concerns, Abe’s drop in popularity – down to 34 percent – and the COVID-19 crisis, rumors had already circulated this year about his possible resignation.
Claiming that he has done everything possible in his prime ministerial post, Abe said he now needs to fight the disease and receive medical treatment, as he is not in optimal health. Abe suffers from chronic ulcerative colitis, which ended his first term as prime minister in 2007. He said he had a relapse of his disease in June and had undergone a new round of drug treatments. His resignation ends the seven years and eight months of his second term.Abe was also affected by corruption scandals, which some say are among other reasons for his resignation. Yet his announcement was a surprise. The Nikkei stock index fell 2.6 percent due to the uncertainties associated with this decision. The next legislative elections are in the program for September 2021, so it will again be the relative majority party – Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – that will choose the next prime minister.
“The LDP almost always changes its rules when it has to choose its leader,” observes political scientist Koichi Nakano of Sophia University. “In principle, there must still be a form of election.”While waiting for the LDP to make its choice, the office of premier will temporarily rest with Cabinet Secretary Yoshida Suga. Abe has not nominated a successor, but the LDP has a reasonable roster of candidates. Although, unfortunately, they are all men.Much will depend on the modality of the new leader’s election. If with an internal vote by the parliamentarians, or extended to the whole party. In the first case, Yoshihide Suga, 71, would be the most likely choice. In the second scenario, former defense minister Shigeru Isiba, 63, could emerge as Japan’s new leader.
Abe’s political legacy is considerable. After serving as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s cabinet secretary, he became prime minister in 2006, before falling from grace and resigning – officially due to ulcerative colitis – in 2007.He reappeared older, wiser, and shrewdest when he began his second post at the helm of the country in December 2012. His tenure made him the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history.In many ways, Abe’s government has been a success story. From an economic point of view, its inflationary Abenomics allowed Japan to overcome the lost decade of the nineties. Socially, the country can boast a low unemployment rate, an equal distribution of income, good infrastructure, minimal social conflicts, low crime rates, and low mortality related to COVID-19.
Nevertheless, Abe leaves a chiaroscuro legacy. Neighboring countries mostly see him as an inveterate nationalist, due to his declared historical revisionism and his choices aimed at strengthening the Japanese army. However, when it comes to trade and tourism, many of his government decisions have been internationalist.
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