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Shinzo Abe: Legacy of a Lifetime

By Amrita Kaur and Ajit Singh


 

After serving the longest continuous stint of any Japanese Prime minister (as well as the longest time in the job overall), Shinzo Abe announced his resignation on August 28, 2020. The abrupt decision was taken by Mr. Abe due to his deteriorating health conditions.

Abe was raised in a prominent political family, his grandfather on his mother’s side, was Japan’s prime minister and Abe’s father was Japan’s foreign minister. Two years after his father’s death, Abe was elected to represent Yamaguchi Prefecture and eventually rose to through the ranks.

Abe became Japan’s leader after a period of political and economic stagnation that followed the country’s postwar boom. He sought to revitalize the economy with a set of policies widely known as “Abenomics”, while pushing the country away from the pacifist policies that defined its role on the world stage since Imperial Japan’s defeat in the World War 2.

Abenomics was a “shock therapy” policy, which sought to reinvigorate Japan’s economy through a combination of monetary easing, government spending and economic reforms, to end a period of lost growth that had stretched since the 1990’s , all the while pursuing structural changes to areas like agriculture, co-operate governance, energy , labor markets and women’s employment.

During his tenure, he made significant changes to security policies, stepping up the support for the liberal international order as the traditional defenders such as the United States and the UK retreated. He built on previous reforms by concentrating greater authority in the cabinet office and expanding control over personnel decisions in the bureaucracy.

Many believed him to be a “pragmatic realist”, strengthening the alliance with the United States, finding new partnerships with rising powers like Australia and India, promoting free trade and the liberal order, and striking a more assertive and influential posture on the international stage , by making visits to 49 countries between December 2012 and September 2014.

The economy, which he has worked hard to revive after decades of listlessness, is swooning again because of Covid-19. His campaign to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to give the armed forces a proper legal underpinning has gone nowhere, However, Abe aimed to maintain the strong public support by pivoting to the themes of Abenomics reform whenever his popularity waned, such as passing the controversial security legislation.

He has left an indelible mark on the country’s economic and defense policies and maintained high profile relationships with foreign allies, including the president of the USA. Abe has said he will stay in office while the LDP chooses a successor, though exactly how it will do that remains up in the air.

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