Farewell Abe-What’s Next for Japan
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
Author : Sakurako Yamamoto
On August 28, Japan was hit by a wave of shock with a sudden announcement on the resignation of the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. He decided to step down from his second tenure a year shorter due to health reasons. Abe has been suffering from chronic ulcerative colitis for a while, which even caused him to step down from his role as Prime Minister in his first tenure in 2007. He found out that his disease had relapsed at the beginning of August 2020, and upon visiting the hospital a few times, decided that he was no longer capable of running the country as proficiently as before.
Amid the nationwide confusion and distress, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is already in talks to hold a presidential election, limited within the party, on September 14 to choose Abe’s successor. Abe announced that he would stay in role until that person is chosen.
Remembering Abe’s Legacy
Abe boasts the legacy of being Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, with 7 years and 8 months. Before Abe, Japan had held elections every year to choose a new Prime Minister. His longevity signifies the creation of the political stability that we see today. On top of that, his legacy cannot be noted without his efforts to save the plummeted economy with his tactics dubbed “Abenomics,” and his noble endeavors to build close relationships with leaders worldwide. At the same time, the unresolved controversies in domestic politics and foreign affairs in East Asia cannot be forgotten either.
Due to Abe’s rigorous efforts, Japan’s economy saw a steady growth that helped overcome its greatest financial crisis - the one before this one in the COVID-era. His comprehensive policy program known as “Abenomics” was pushed out to revive and boost the economy from two decades of deflation. “Abenomics” strives for future growth, future generations, and a prosperous future for Japan. The program’s main pillars include aggressive monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy, and growth strategy, which comprehensively strive to boost Japan’s economy. According to The Government of Japan, his efforts bore fruit to a large extent, as we can examine that the nominal GDP rose by 48.4 trillion JPY, and the number of employed females rose by 4.4 million[MOU1] , since 2012 when he came to power.
He is also renowned for modelling Japan into a champion of free trade, rescuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from destruction when the U.S. withdrew, and pushing through the largest bilateral trade pact with the EU.
In addition, he has amplified Japan’s name recognition and international power on the global stage by building close-knit relationships with leaders around the world. His personal relationship with the U.S. president Donald Trump is the most notable, from the perspective of a Japanese citizen. All controversy aside, this close relationship helped Japan dodge attacks by the U.S. and instead receive protection from the country’s nuclear and military power. Abe also exercised his diplomacy skills with the EU in closing a trade deal, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in strengthening the Indo-Pacific security framework, as well as with China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin although there remains political /territorial disputes respectively between both countries. Abe’s diligence of exercising personal diplomacy worldwide strengthened Japan’s power in the global field and boosted its position as an international player.
Next, we must not forget the lowlights and unfinished work of his tenure as well. Although under Abe’s term, the economy was successfully pulled out of its turmoil, the country’s debt remains one of the highest among the world’s advanced industrial economies. Japan is also still struggling with an aging population and has not sought a viable solution for that either. Outside of Japan, unfinished work concerning territorial disputes with Russia, security concerns over China, and tense relationships with South Korea remain, just to list a few. These are all grave subjects that must be resolved soon in order to foster better relationships between countries and ensure safety among their people.[MOU2]
The race to succeed Abe’s position is currently in motion. In the LDP election on the 14th, the winner who will replace Abe will serve the remainder of his term until September 2021. After that, on September 16 Japan’s national parliament will hold an election to choose the next Prime Minister. As Abe’s LDP is maintaining the leading role in parliament, it is likely that his successor will also serve as the next Prime Minister. This means that whoever becomes the caretaker Prime Minister from this September will likely become the next Prime Minister from next year. In other words, this upcoming election is massively important since the outcome may determine the future of Japan. The focal point in evaluating the next Prime Minister is how well they will handle the spread of COVID-19, and restore the declining economy caused by it.
There are currently three main LDP politicians in the race: former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Ishiba is a strong contender supported by many local LDP chapters and citizens within Japan. This major rival and critic of Abe ranked in first place as the preferred next prime minister by Japanese citizens. However, since the upcoming election is limiting votes of local LDP chapters and providing full votes only to LDP Diet members (who support the Abe administration), there is a small chance he will win Abe’s remaining term. Instead, Abe’s longtime right-hand person Suga is likely to gain the most votes from the LDP Diet members despite only having 14% of the Japanese public’s support to succeed as Prime Minister.
Suga pledged that he will follow the steps of Abe in domestic and foreign policy if he wins. [MOU3] As a prospective candidate, he is eager to open the economy for more foreign investment and manage stock prices to support the government and businesses. Suga is heavily focused on boosting the economy just like Abe, with confidence built on past achievements.
Whoever it may be, Abe’s successor needs to urgently address the dire issues Japan faces today. Containing the spread of the virus and coming up with a comprehensive framework [MOU4] to save Japan’s economy from the slump is the most pressing concern. Besides dealing with domestic issues, worries over Japan’s new style of foreign diplomacy linger. Abe was skilled at fostering personal relationships with world leaders and maintaining them by regularly meeting for face-to-face interactions. His diligent manners alone are something that cannot be easily transmitted to the next leader. Nonetheless, his people skills and charisma are notable features unique to him. Becoming Japan’s new “face” in the international world comes with heavy responsibility and high expectations, especially after Abe’s achievements. If Suga is elected, he will have to govern domestic politics to gain support from Japanese citizens, as well as strenuously dive into global politics to maintain Japan’s power and role in the international field.
Meanwhile, we must also not forget to express respect towards Shinzo Abe for his long service, as well as hope for his safety.
"ABENOMICS | The Government of Japan - Japangov -". Japangov, https://www.japan.go.jp/abenomics/.
"What Happens Next with Japanese Politics After Abe's Resignation". Time, 2020, https://time.com/5886222/japanese-politics-abe-resignation/?amp=true.