TOKYO, July 8 (Reuters) – Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, whose bold “Abenomics” policies sought to lift the economy out of chronic deflation, ramp up the military and counter China’s growing power, is at 67 age died. †
Abe, who left office in 2020, was shot dead Friday while speaking during an election campaign in an attack that his protégé and incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called “absolutely unforgivable”. read more
The legislature first became prime minister in 2006 and lasted just a year before returning for a rare second stint in 2012 in which he pledged to revive a stagnant economy, relax the boundaries of a post-World War II pacifist constitution, and restore traditional values.
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He was instrumental in winning the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, harboring a desire to preside over the Games, and even appeared as Nintendo video game character Mario during the Olympic transfer in Rio, the 2016 host.
Abe became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in November 2019, but by the summer of 2020, support had been eroded by his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and a series of scandals, including the arrest of his former justice minister.
He resigned in September of that year without achieving his long-held goal of revising the constitution or presiding over the Games, which had been postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
But he remained a dominant presence over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which controlled one of its main factions. He was campaigning for a Senate election two days later when he was assassinated.
Abe first took office in 2006 as Japan’s youngest prime minister since World War II. After a year ravaged by political scandals, voter outrage over lost pension records and election abuse for his ruling party, Abe stopped mentioning ill health.
“What worries me most now is that my resignation will blur the conservative ideals promoted by the Abe administration,” Abe subsequently wrote in Bungei Shunju magazine.
“From now on, I want to sacrifice myself as a legislator to help real conservatism take root in Japan.”
Five years after his resignation, which he attributed to the bowel disease ulcerative colitis, Abe led his conservative LDP — ousted in 2009 — back into power.
He then launched a three-pronged “Abenomics” strategy to beat ongoing deflation and revive economic growth with hyper-easy monetary policy and budget spending, along with structural reforms to cope with a rapidly aging, shrinking population.
However, deflation proved intractable and its growth strategy suffered in 2019 from a sales tax hike and the Sino-US trade war. The following year’s COVID-19 pandemic triggered Japan’s deepest economic slump on record.
At the start of the pandemic, Abe took the time to close Japan’s borders and introduce a state of emergency calling on people to stay at home and close shops. Critics initially labeled the response as clumsy and later accused Abe of a lack of leadership.
When he resigned due to the same bowel condition, Japan’s COVID-19 death rate was well below that of many other developed countries.
Abe came from a wealthy political family, including a father of a secretary of state and a great-uncle who served as prime minister. But when it came to much policy, his grandfather, the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, seems to matter most.
Kishi was a wartime minister who was imprisoned but never tried as a war criminal after World War II. He was prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and resigned due to public furore over a renegotiated security pact between the US and Japan.
When Abe was five years old, he heard on his grandfather’s lap the sound of clashes between police and left-wing crowds protesting the pact outside parliament.
Kishi unsuccessfully attempted to revise the US-drafted 1947 Constitution to become an equal security partner of the United States and adopt more assertive diplomacy — issues central to Abe’s own agenda.
Abe increased defense spending and reached out to other Asian countries to counter an increasingly assertive China. He passed laws to allow Japan to exercise the right of “collective self-defense” or military aid to an attacked ally.
Revising the pacifist constitution remained a top priority for Abe, a controversial goal as many Japanese see the charter as responsible for the country’s post-war record of peace.
Abe’s underlying agenda was to escape what he called the post-war regime, a legacy of the US occupation that conservatives say has robbed Japan of national pride. One of his goals was to reform the education system to restore traditional mores.
He also took a less apologetic stance on Japan’s actions during World War II, saying that future generations should not continue to apologize for the mistakes of the past.
Abe was first elected to parliament in 1993 after his father’s death. He achieved national fame for taking a tough stance on unpredictable neighbor North Korea in a feud over Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago.
While Abe also tried to improve ties with China and South Korea, where bitter memories of war are deeply rooted, in 2013 he criticized both neighbors by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which is served by Beijing and Seoul. seen as a symbol of Japanese militarism in the past.
In later years, he renounced personal visits and sent ritual offerings instead.
Across the Pacific, Abe forged close ties with US President Donald Trump, playing golf and holding regular phone calls and meetings.
He was re-elected as LDP president for a third consecutive three-year term in 2018 following a change in party rules and, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, some in the LDP had considered another rule change giving him a fourth term. to allow.
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Reporting by Elaine Lies and Linda Sieg; Editing by William Mallard and Christopher Cushing
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