The motto “politics demands producing results” has been the hallmark of top Japanese politician Shinzo Abe until he announced his resignation from the office of prime minister on Friday.
“I have decided to step down as prime minister as poor health should not lead to wrong political decisions,” said Abe, who has led the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the country’s longest-serving premier, besting the previous record of 2,798 days held by his great uncle, Eisaku Sato (1901-1975).
He added: “I will continue [my political work] and will run [for parliament] in the next elections.”
Abe, also Japan’s youngest prime minister when he first took office in 2006, is evidently facing serious health complications as he vomited up blood last month, prompting rumors of a possible leadership change in the ruling party.
“It was last Monday [Aug. 24],” Abe answered Friday when asked when he decided to step down.
What may be Abe’s last news conference as prime minister lasted for slightly over an hour.
Rise in politics
It was on Sept. 20, 2006 that Abe, then 52, was elected head of the LDP.
In six days, he rose to become the 90th prime minister of Japan, which has the world’s third-largest economy. He already had experience under his belt serving as the government’s chief cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2006.
He took office aged 52, Japan’s youngest premier in the postwar era, a record that still stands.
However, the first jolt to his political career came when he suddenly resigned due to bad ulcerative colitis illness in 2007. He had been in office for just a year – September 2006 to September 2007.
It was the same year that his party faced an embarrassing defeat in the upper house or House of Councilors of Japan’s parliament, or Diet.
Abe was first elected to the House of Representatives – the lower house – in the 1993 election.
Abe was born on Sept. 21, 1954 in the capital Tokyo to a prominent political family which had significant economic influence during pre-war, wartime, and post-war Japan.
His family was originally from the western Yamaguchi province.
Returns to serve longest-term
Abe made a stunning return to power in 2012, first defeating party rival Shigeru Ishiba in September to retake the LDP helm, and then leading the party to an overwhelming majority that December.
It was again a political milestone – the first Japanese former premier to return to office since Shigeru Yoshida in 1948.
Japan’s premier newspaper Japan Times said: “Abe began his return stint at the government’s helm in 2012 with a focus on the economy, pledging to pull Japan out of long-term deflation.”
His mantra of “politics demands producing results” started showing results as the Bank of Japan’s “aggressive monetary stimulus program pushed down the yen against other major currencies, and drove up the earnings of big companies and share prices.”
He was re-elected in similar landslides in the 2014 and 2017 elections. His administration, however, did fail to meet its target of 2% annual inflation.
COVID-19 batters the economy
A recent survey by state-run Kyodo News found most of the Japanese public were disappointed by the Abe government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Japan has reported 66,396 coronavirus cases since the outbreak last December. The country has so far done nearly 1.24 million tests for the virus, after a slow start that drew criticism.
A total of 1,226 people have died from the infection.
The pandemic battered the country’s economy.
The latest government figures in mid-July showed Japan’s economy contracted 27.8% in the first quarter of the current fiscal year – April to June.
Japan lost at least 7.8% of its $4.97 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) to COVID-19, according to the latest figures.
“People are unhappy with government’s response to coronavirus while there are cases of corruption against the LDP members besides cases of nepotism,” a Japanese political observer from Tokyo told Anadolu Agency.
“I think he [Abe] doesn’t have power to counter all the criticism,” said the observer, who asked not to be named.
Japan’s parliament is due to meet in September, where Abe’s successor will to have to prove himself.
Abe declined to comment on who would be the next premier. His term would have normally come to an end by October 2021.
On resigning in the middle of his term, Abe said he had wanted to avoid a power vacuum.
He also asserted: “I have never used this administration for private purposes.”
During his news conference, Abe also touched on Japan’s security concerns.
“North Korea has much capability in ballistic missiles and Japan will have to improve its security capacity,” he said.
“Unfortunately, our neighbor has nuclear ambitions and to ensure the security of our country, we need a strong alliance with the US,” he added.
Abe said Japan – the site of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings 75 years ago – would try to be a bridge between countries with nuclear arms and those without.
Japan and North Korea and South Korea have been at odds over history since Japan ruled the Korean peninsula from 1910 until 1945.
“It is a deterrence not to wage war,” he said about strengthening Japan’s security.
“Peace issues with Russia are very important and still pose a challenge,” he said, also expressing “great pain” for not amending the country’s constitution – one of the LDP’s longtime goals.
He called for “the whole world to cooperate to sustain peace.”
Abe’s term also saw bilateral relations with South Korea reach a new low over the issue of wartime sexual exploitation.
Tokyo also restricted supplies for critical equipment for South Korea’s booming tech industry, drawing a sharp response from Seoul.
Japan’s major loss under Abe was the delay in the world’s biggest sports event – the Olympics 2020. It was delayed by a year due to the pandemic.
In touch with Muslims
Speaking by telephone, a businessman from Osaka told Anadolu Agency that the 2011 Fukushima tsunami shaped Abe’s view of Muslims in the country.
“Abe visited many relief camps and rescue operations and what he found is Muslims, especially from Pakistan, were everywhere,” said the businessman, who asked not to be named.
Abe was in opposition in 2011.
“The Muslim groups had reached tsunami-affected spots long before government and other Japanese groups reached there,” he added.
After Abe returned as premier in 2012, the businessman said: “His administration constructed Muslim prayer spaces alongside highways and in many airports.”
“Abe was in constant touch with the Muslim community,” he added.
The Abe administration also allotted a specific room for Muslims in the country’s Japanese Language Centers for foreign students and professionals.
“In big restaurants, he asked owners to make Halal [Muslim-approved] food available for Muslims; in the past such developments were rare,” the businessman said.
The major activity Abe undertook with any foreign country during the pandemic was this May, when he virtually attended, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the opening of the Basaksehir Cam and Sakura City Hospitals in Istanbul.
Turkish and Japanese companies jointly constructed the hospitals.
The two countries have enjoyed good relations under Abe, shown by how in 2019 Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun by Japan’s emperor for his efforts to strengthen bilateral relations.
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