Shinzo Abe: Japan's hawkish PM known for 'Abenomics'

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As Japan's longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe was known for his hawkish policies and his signature economic strategy of "Abenomics".

He stepped down for health reasons in 2020 when after weeks of speculation, he revealed he had suffered a relapse of ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disease that led to his resignation during his first term as prime minister in 2007.

He was succeeded by his close party ally Yoshihide Suga.

Rise to power

Nicknamed "the Prince", Shinzo Abe hails from political royalty as the son of former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe and grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Mr Abe, 65, was first elected to parliament in 1993, and in 2005 he became a cabinet member when then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appointed him to the high profile role of chief cabinet secretary.

media captionShinzo Abe: "I apologise to the people of Japan"

His rise appeared complete in 2006 when he became Japan's youngest post-war prime minister.

However, a series of scandals - including the government's loss of pension records, affecting about 50 million claims - affected his administration.

A heavy loss for the LDP followed in upper house elections in July 2007, and in September of that year he resigned due to ulcerative colitis.

In 2012, Mr Abe returned as prime minister, saying that he had overcome the disease with the help of medication.

He was subsequently re-elected in 2014 and 2017, becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister in the process.

Mr Abe's popularity fluctuated, but he remained largely unchallenged as prime minister due to his influence in the LDP, which amended its rules to allow him to serve a third term as party leader.

A controversial nationalist

Mr Abe was known for his hawkish stance on defence and foreign policy, and has long sought to amend Japan's pacifist post-war constitution.

His nationalist views have often raised tensions with China and South Korea, particularly after his 2013 visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, a controversial site linked to Japan's militarism before and during World War Two.

image copyrightEPA
image captionNationalists remember Japan's war dead - Shinzo Abe's visit to Yasukuni caused anger

In 2015, he pushed for the right to collective self-defence, enabling Japan to mobilise troops overseas to defend itself and allies under attack.

Despite opposition from Japan's neighbours and even the Japanese public, Japan's parliament approved this controversial change.

His larger goal of revising the constitution to formally recognise Japan's military remains unfulfilled, and continues to be a divisive topic in Japan.

Tackling economy and Covid-19

He is also known for "Abenomics", his signature economic policy built on monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms.

These measures led to growth during his first term, but subsequent slowdowns raised questions about the effectiveness of Abenomics.

His efforts to revive the economy also faced challenges when Japan in the spring of 2020 entered a recession for the first time since 2015.

image copyrightEPA
image captionShinzo Abe when he announced his resignation in 2020

Mr Abe's popularity was further hit by concerns over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Washable cloth face-masks distributed by the government - dubbed "Abenomasks" - were criticised for being too small and arriving late.

There have also been concerns that campaigns aimed at boosting domestic tourism contributed to a resurgence of Covid-19.

Rumours and resignation

Rumours about Mr Abe's health started spreading in early August 2020, after weekly magazine Flash reported that he had vomited blood in his office in July.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had initially denied the report, but speculation increased after Mr Abe checked into Tokyo's Keio University Hospital on 17 August.

His resignation announcement on 28 August put an end to the rumours but led to an internal struggle between LDP factions, because he declined to name a successor.

He was eventually succeeded by Yoshihide Suga, a veteran politician and long-time cabinet member

Japan's next prime minister will thus face the dual challenges of gaining control over the party while helping the country rebuild during a pandemic.

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