16 July 2022

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Friday was a shock both inside and outside Japan not only because such an incident was unthinkable in recent Japan’s history, but also for the tragic loss of one of the greatest prime ministers in Japan, Asia and possibly beyond

Shinzo Abe was not just an ordinary prime minister, nor just the longest-serving Japanese prime minister, but also "perhaps the most polarising, complex politician in recent Japanese history", as described by the Associated Press. He managed to revive the Japanese economy from one of the worst periods of downturn in the country, while seeking to strengthen the capabilities of the Self-Defence Forces. He also stood up against the growing influence of China and enhanced Japan's role regionally and in the global arena through positive engagement policies. Therefore, the shock of his death extends far beyond the mere loss of a famous person or leader, but rather it is an act that will reverberate in Japanese politics for years to come, especially the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in which Abe was influential and highly respected.

Abe was a prominent politician who came from a distinguished political family. His father was a foreign minister, his parental grandfather was a prominent politician and parliamentarian, and his maternal grandfather was a prime minister. He was elected to the Japanese Diet and served as prime minister for the first time in 2006, at the age of 52 to become the youngest prime minister in the country since World War II. Nevertheless, he lasted in office for only one year and was forced to resign amid a series of political scandals and the ignominious loss of his party in the upper house elections in July 2007. But five years later, he returned to power after a sweeping victory of his party in the general election in December 2012.

During his eight years in office, Abe earned his place in history not only by surpassing all other Japanese prime ministers in terms of service, but also through a record of outstanding successes and achievements. His plan known as "Abenomics", helped Japan’s economy recovery, though fell short of people’s expectations. Abe was the first booster of Tokyo's 2020 Games. One of his most important achievements is strengthening Japan's position in the global arena and reinforcing its relations with countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, India and the Middle East, and many countries in Africa as well.

Abe also established policies aimed at developing Japan's security practices, bypassing bureaucracy in making foreign policy, and speed and certainty in making defense decisions. He took a firm stance on North Korea and mediated the conflict between the United States and Iran. He traveled overseas more than any other leader in Japan’s history, that is why he became a key player for Japan on the world stage.

But again, the country witnessed in 2019 recession, when the economy was experiencing the worst slump on record due to trade war between Washington and Beijing, the increase in sales tax, and finally coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the way he handled the Corona crisis led to a deep decline in his popularity that forced him to quit for the second and the last time.

Many in Japan may remember Abe as a leader whose name was associated with some failures and scandals, his relentless attempts to amend the pacifist constitution without results and fuelling disputes with regional neighbours while trying to whitewash the atrocities committed by Japanese forces during World War II, but no doubt he will be always remembered, in and outside Japan, as the most prominent and influential figure in the country for a decade. Even after stepping down, Abe's influence on Japanese politics both at home and abroad continued. He supported then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, as his successor, and aided in Fumio Kishida's victory over the famous former Foreign Minister Taro Kono, to become prime minister. And in November 2021, he became the leader of the largest faction in the LDP and exercised strong influence in the government.

So decisively, Abe's assassination will create a major political vacuum in the country that will affect not only the ruling LDP, but also the wider political landscape in the country.