GP Insights # 407, 30 August 2020
Shinzo Abe put an end to speculations surrounding his health on 28 August 2020, announced that he would leave the office. The 65-year-old stated that his health began to decline from mid-July. Shinzo Abe's administration had been facing criticism for Japan's slowing economy and its handling of the pandemic. Abe is the longest-serving leader in Japan whose term was due September 2021.
What is the background?
First, the announcement and its timing: At an unusually unmoderated press conference, Shinzo Abe announced his resignation. He said that the decision was taken to ensure that he does not fall short on his duties and decision-making, as he is now receiving regular treatment for his health condition. He had resigned from his duties in 2007 due to the same health reasons. Among his promises made while taking office, he mentioned that getting North Korea to return abducted Japanese citizens; sorting territorial dispute with Russia; and overhauling the constitution to give more power and autonomy to the military were his shortcomings.
Second, the domestic political conditions in Japan: in the initial months of his term, in order to give a boost to Japanese stock indexes and the employment rate, Abe had introduced massive monetary easing and set the inflation target at two per cent, this is popularly called Abenomics and had shown good results. There have been a string of scandals money and accusations of favouritism against his cabinet members and him. However, the pandemic placed a huge impact on the Japanese economy and worsened its fiscal health undoing the benefits that came with Abenomics.
Third, his potential successors. Abe announced that he would leave the office when a successor is chosen, which automatically has triggered a call for a vote within the Liberal Democratic Party. Taro Aso, the Deputy Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and Fumio Kishida, the LDP Police Chief are rumoured to be the main contenders.
Fourth, what it means to the world: Abe has been a familiar presence at myriad international gatherings and for his rapport with foreign leaders. He is also often regarded as a hawkish conservative, who sought to raise Japan's profile globally. However, the abduction issue with North Korea remained unsolved. Japan's relations with South Korea were soured, and the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan has remained stagnant for decades now.
What does it mean?
The timing of Shinzo Abe's exit has certainly been a shock. The fact that he is resigning for a second time would cost heavy for his political career. The successor is unlikely to deviate from the existing policies of the government but would essentially be left with the management of the COVID crisis and deal with the prominent domestic and regional challenges. Shinzo Abe has announced that he will return to his political career before the next general elections.