Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Resigns for Health Reasons

Tenure ends for Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister . . . 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on Friday, citing health reasons. After speculation following two recent hospital visits, Abe, who had just become Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister, revealed he is once again suffering from ulcerative colitis, making it difficult for him to carry out his duties. Abe was first elected as the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan in September 2006 and subsequently became Prime Minister. He abruptly resigned in September 2007, citing health issues. He won the LPD’s leadership race in September 2012 and again assumed the prime ministership in December of that year.

Complicated legacy . . .

Abe will be remembered for his “Abenomics” and “Womenomics” policies, which aimed to revitalize Japan’s economy and increase women’s participation in the workforce, albeit with mixed results. He also managed to improve relations with China while maintaining good relations with the Trump Administration, but saw relations with South Korea deteriorate under his tenure. Abe played a key role in the adoption of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and championed multilateralism at a time when the U.S. began retreating from that position. Abe, however, said he regretted not realizing some of his key goals, such as hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; amending the Constitution, particularly Article 9; and, securing the return of more Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

What’s next for Japan?

Given the suddenness of Abe’s announcement, there is no clear designated successor. For now, the Cabinet is expected to resign following the LDP’s election of a new leader and president. That vote will likely happen in September, before a general election is held in 2021. Whoever replaces Abe will inherit significant challenges, such as an enormous public debt, a precarious economy, and various geopolitical challenges, especially a worsening U.S.-China relationship and the continued scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada, which has had a close and multifaceted relationship with Japan, boosted by an amicable relationship between Abe and Trudeau, will look to resume its good relationship with a new leader.