He’s a marathon runner who collapses on arrival. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation on Friday. “Unfortunately, my health deteriorated sharply in July and this month and was confirmed to have recurrence of intestinal inflammation. I decided to resign having lost confidence in my ability to conduct an effective policy in the service of the population ”said the head of government, his throat tight and his voice hoarse. He will benefit from a new treatment. His political entourage had already commented on this departure after media leaks several hours before the official announcement. “It’s a shame, we had a lot of things to do, starting with the preparation for the Tokyo Olympics”, reacted the governor of the Japanese capital, Yuriko Koike.
“We will reorganize the party according to this event”, added a Liberal Democratic Party official chaired by Abe. “I didn’t expect it at all, it’s a total surprise”, assured one of his relatives, the nationalist Tomomi Inada. A party meeting is scheduled for the evening to prepare for the appointment of his successor as chairman of the party and prime minister.
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Shinzo Abe, 65, who explained himself at a press conference, had just passed the 2,798 continuous days at the head of the country, a record for longevity in a term previously held by his great-uncle, Eisaku Sato (Prime Minister from 1964 to 1972). But, barely this record broken, he is forced by illness to leave the front of the political scene. This is the second time that this has happened to this political animal who has as many detractors as admirers, including in his camp.
Shinzo Abe ended a first term of only one year in 2007, officially due to intestinal problems, but also after a wave of resignations of ministers mired in scandals. He was then much less seasoned. Crossing the desert put to good use, effective medicine until recently, change of hairstyle, more ease in front of the cameras, better advice and freed from the shadow of his mentor Junichiro Koizumi, this assumed nationalist had returned to business at the end of 2012. He then posed as the savior of a Japan in peril after the three years in power of a center-left party and the triple disaster of March 11, 2011 (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident in Fukushima). The waltz of heads (a new Prime Minister every year between 2006 and 2012) ended there. He settled in his chair with a solid footing, the almost full support of the omnipotent Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), co-founded by his grandfather and ex-Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, Nobusuke Kishi.
“He tackled one problem after another and seven and a half years went by in one go. Since January, with the whole of the government, he has been dealing with all his might for the coronavirus crisis ”, Government Secretary General Yoshihide Suga said this week, while denying a decline in the Prime Minister’s health. “He is in top form”, had even sworn one of his proteges, the Minister of Economic Revitalization, Yasutoshi Nishimura.
During all these years, the heir of a dynasty of politicians distinguished himself first with an economic policy called “Abenomics” supposed to rid the country of nagging deflation via its “3 arrows” – generous fiscal policy, ultra-flexible monetary policy and structural reforms. Under the Abe government, reshuffled many times, full employment took hold, even with staff shortages in some sectors, but also many working poor, not working enough to live well, but too much to enter the statistics unemployment. The position of women has improved a little, but they “Shine” not as much as he had promised. The consumption tax has seen two successive increases (from 5 to 10%), which did not please everyone.
The year 2020 was to be the year of consecration with the Tokyo Olympics for which he wet his shirt by accompanying the candidacy of the capital to deliver a speech in English (which he does not speak fluently), swearing that marine pollution was “Under control in Fukushima”and dress up as a plumber Mario in Rio. 2020 was also to be, according to his plans, the year of the first revision of the Japanese Constitution, drafted in 1946 by the American occupier, which entered into force in 1947 and never amended since. He made it the ultimate ambition of his career, a matter of almost family honor, in memory of his grandfather Kishi. He said to himself Friday “Very sorry not to have been able to complete” which was for him a mission. “It is a promise from our party and a successor, whoever he is, will take this reform in hand”.
Since 2012 and until recently, he had always been cunning to maintain himself at the head of the country, despite cases, repeated suspicions of favoritism, some arrangements with the Constitution to harden the prerogatives of Japanese soldiers abroad. Did he fall in the polls that he always had two weapons at his disposal: the tours abroad where he restored the image of the country. He was thus rebuilding his health by posing with Donald Trump or Vladimir Poutin, relegating internal troubles to the background. Another weapon: the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament. With a shattered opposition unable to field candidates everywhere, his PLD was unlikely to lose and he himself had little rival in his party, although some were actively preparing to be the prime minister “post -Abe ”. The coronavirus crisis, against which he announced on Friday new measures to face the risks to come, deprived him of stays outside the archipelago and his weakening health precipitated the fall already well underway because of various scandals.
Who to succeed him? No one knows, but the post-Abe, “It risks being Abe without Abe”, warns political scientist Koiichi Nakano.
Tokyo correspondent Karyn Nishimura