By FOSTER KLUG and MARI YAMAGUCHI – Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe was perhaps the most controversial leader in recent Japanese history, infuriating liberals with his revisionist views of history and dreams of military expansion. He was also the oldest and, by many estimates, the most influential.
For current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, this complicated legacy will loom large as he plans to take over his mentor’s unfulfilled political goals after a big victory for their ruling Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections on Sunday, a few just days after Abe’s death.
Kishida gained considerable political strength, riding a wave of emotion and vows of resilience from voters after the assassination, but he also lost his party’s most powerful force – Abe.
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“Kishida now faces an increasingly murky political situation,” the liberal-leaning Asahi newspaper said in an editorial. “The death of Abe, who led the largest wing of the LDP, will certainly change the balance of power in the party.”
Kishida spelled out his immediate priorities after the election: “Party unity is more important than anything else.”
But he also needs to make quick headway on growing worries about rising prices and a stagnant economy even as he tries to figure out how to bolster Japan’s defenses against aggressive China, Russia and North Korea.
And then there’s Abe’s polarizing nationalist agenda, much of which remains unfinished, including his attempts to boost patriotism in schools, revoke apologies made in the 1990s about wartime Japanese aggression and Japan’s controversial and controversial plan to revise Japan’s war renunciation. Constitution to give more power to the army.
How Kishida handles Abe’s still considerable political presence may determine his success as a leader.
At the heart of Abe’s lingering influence – he left the top job in 2020 – lies a paradox.
He has alienated many people in Japan, as well as war victims in China and Korea, with his hawkish foreign and security policy, as well as his ultraconservative – sometimes revisionist – stance on so-called historical issues related to actions. of war in Japan.
Abe pushed back on post-World War II treaties and court verdicts that tried Japanese war criminals and was a driving force in efforts to whitewash military atrocities and end war apologies.
The Japanese electorate, however, carried him to power in six elections. And his work to strengthen the alliance with the United States and to unify like-minded democracies as a counterweight to China’s assertiveness has endeared him to American and European elites.
His long grip on power, even amid criticism of his more extreme views, can be explained by voters’ desire for stability and better economics, Abe’s stranglehold on the conservative wing of his party and the misfortune of the opposition.
His first spell as prime minister, which began in 2006, ended in failure after a year, partly due to a backlash from his nationalist political goals.
After three years of opposition rule, a rare break in decades of LDP dominance, Abe returned to power with a landslide victory in 2012.
“After his first stint failed, he learned that his nationalist agenda of building a ‘beautiful nation’ can only move forward if he has another agenda to balance it, like the two wheels of a cart. “said Koichi Nakano, a science professor at Sophia University. international politics.
While continuing to implement his nationalist policies, Nakano said, Abe also began to champion economic revitalization and compromise on issues such as promoting the advancement of women and accepting labor. unskilled foreign labor to help boost a dwindling workforce – moves that earned him a reputation as a realist. .
He understood during his second term that “he needed to improve his discourse and his policy on the economy. He convinced a large part of the public that ‘Abenomics’ was a necessary path of reform”, said Leif- Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul Abe has also “exercised institutional discipline over the government bureaucracy and its political party in a way that no opposition leader has yet been able to. ‘equal’.
Abe was the grandson of right-wing former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, which helped him win support from right-wing groups. It has also been favored by young people, experts say, many of whom are more conservative than their counterparts in other parts of the world due to their deep interest in a stable economy so they can find work in big companies. .
“It seems voters preferred the stability promised by Abe to the disorganized leadership that the (opposition party) provided” during his three years in power, said Jeffrey Hall, a professor at Kanda University of International Studies. specializing in Japanese politics and nationalism. “For international observers, Abe’s support for historical revisionism is more important than it was for domestic voters.”
While Abe’s eagerness to build up Japan’s military might was more than most Japanese citizens wanted, according to Easley, “he was right that Tokyo had to adapt to a difficult security environment that includes China, Russia and North Korea”.
Kishida enjoys some sort of political mandate after Sunday’s election and will likely be in office until elections due in 2025. He said he wanted to explore ways to make more progress in Abe’s campaign for the constitutional review, but there are no details now on what, exactly, that means or how he will try to do it.
According to Ryosuke Nishida, a sociology professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, changing the constitution is a high-level party platform that Kishida won’t want to risk, so he can delay the effort until he can forge a compromise with right-wing party members on the best way to proceed.
“Abe was one of the strongest voices for constitutional review and a more proactive security policy. Now that he’s gone, others will try to take his place, but it will be difficult,” Hall said.
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