Sep 1, 2020 - World

Japan ponders future after Shinzo Abe

Abe bows to the flag before resigning. Photo: Franck Robichon - Pool/Getty Images

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will gather in mid-September to elect a successor to Shinzo Abe as its leader and the country’s prime minister.

Driving the news: Abe announced his resignation on Friday due to chronic ulcerative colitis, just days after becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

  • Favorites to succeed him include Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, an Abe ally, and Shigeru Ishiba, an Abe critic and former defense secretary.

Flashback: Before Abe returned to power in 2012, Japan had shuffled through five prime ministers in as many years.

Data: Gleditsc and Chiozza, 2016, "Archigos — A Data Set on Leaders 1875–2015", Axios research; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios
Data: Gleditsc and Chiozza, 2016, "Archigos — A Data Set on Leaders 1875–2015", Axios research; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: In his resignation statement, Abe acknowledged his failure to achieve signature promises, including a peace treaty with Russia to secure the return of disputed islands and reform of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

But Abe will perhaps be best remembered for restoring Japan’s status as a major player on the world stage and for strengthening the role of prime minister.

  • He also strengthened Japan’s alliance with the U.S., Michael Auslin writes for Foreign Policy.
  • “It’s been nearly a decade since Washington had to worry about whether a Japanese leader was fully committed to the alliance, could keep a stable parliamentary majority, and had clear plans for making Japan play a role in the world commensurate with its position as the third-largest economy.”
  • That era may be ending.

Editor's note: The above graphic was created in 2019, which is why the tenures of some current leaders (e.g., Boris Johnson) appear so short. See the interactive version.

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