BY ASHIMA SINGH
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, announced his resignation on August 28, 2020, owing to a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a chronic intestinal disease. This was indeed an exit which nobody had predicted. In this article, I will shed a light on Shinzo Abe’s political career and now what’s next for Japan.
Shinzo Abe, a Japanese politician, has held many offices in his political career, the main one being of the Prime Minister, which he has served for four terms. He began his journey in politics in 1993, when he got elected to the House of Representatives. And since then he not only has moved in an upward direction, but his political career trajectory has been quite interesting. In 2006, at the age of 52, he was elected as the youngest prime minister of post-war (World War II) Japan. However, only after one year in office, Shinzo Abe resigned citing ulcerative colitis. In 2012, after recovering from his illness, Abe made an unexpected political comeback. Not only was he elected as the President of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a landslide victory, but he was re-elected as the Prime Minister of Japan. The famous declaration, “Japan is Back”, further led him to his re-election in 2014 and 2017.
Looking back at his career, Abe has been a conservative politician, known for his nationalist policies. And such views have been visible in his domestic and foreign policies since his prime ministerial-ship in 2012. Between 2006-12, the country had been through five leaders, and unfortunately was one of the more sluggish economies amongst the developed countries. Abe’s aggressive economic policies, popularly known as, “Abenomics,” were responsible for the economic revival of the country. Shinzo Abe’s foreign policies focused on building ties between Japan and ASEAN, India and Australia. Some believe these were aimed at reducing China’s influence in the region. In 2020 itself, Abe was highly scrutinized for his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic, especially his reluctance to cancel/postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For Japan, this event had been a matter of pride, they had made a huge investment to host the games. And much of Abe’s political image had been resting on the success of the Olympics. Eight years later, as he steps down, the country is more stable politically. However, the changes introduced by him in the economic and social sector leaves behind a mixed legacy and many unfinished businesses. These include an economy stricken by coronavirus and his dream of reforming Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. What is Article 9? The provisions of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution basically states that Japan is not allowed to maintain an army, navy or air force for anything other than self defence.
What happens now in Japan? After Shinzo Abe’s resignation, under the provisions of the law of the country, an acting prime minister would step in. Within the LDP, of which Abe was the president, there would be elections to vote for a new leader. A high contender to replace Shinzo Abe as the Prime Minister is Yoshihide Suga, he served as Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary. Suga, 71, may lack the political blue blood of Abe, whose grandfather has also served as the Prime Minister of the country. But Suga has built a reputation as a detail-orientated workaholic, who is more of a technocrat than a visionary.
Yoshihide Suga’s main challenge when he steps into this role would be to recover Japan’s economy during the pandemic. This would include countermeasures such as temporary income guarantees and expanding jobs subsidies. Analysts say Suga is also likely to continue boosting opportunities for women, which under Abe’s leadership had increased from 63% to 71%. However, Suga might not continue or enforce Abe’s nationalist vigor and reforming Japan’s constitution. This will definitely lead to many changes in Japan, especially at an International level. Abe built ties with many countries to boost Japan’s geographical clout. Thus, the one area where Abe’s absence will be felt, would be in building personal relationships with other world leaders. The pandemic, for Suga, means that he will struggle to adopt the same, since he is more of a domestically focused politician. According to Japan Times, “Suga, whether he likes it or not, will have to succeed much of Abe’s foreign policy while refurbishing parts of it. The fact remains that the foreign policy Abe pursued is one of the few realistic options available for Japan to cope with the strategic transformation in the 21st century for East Asia.” Thus, Suga might continue Abe’s foreign and domestic policy. However, his focus will be on bringing more foreign investment and supporting stock prices, providing a boost to the economy, both domestic and foreign. To quote Time, “He also seems more serious than Abe—at least on the margins—about pursuing reform, and has a track record of taking on special interests that stand in the way.”
In my opinion, while Suga may not have much experience, we should not underestimate him as there is a reason why he was the No. 2 man in the Abe administration. So we have to just wait and watch as he might step in as the Prime Minister of Japan this month.