Japanese PM Abe resigns in bombshell development, race for succession on

Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in history, has resigned, citing health reasons.

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday he will resign, ending his record-breaking tenure in a bombshell development that kicks off a leadership race in the world’s third-largest economy.

Abe said he is suffering a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis that forced him to cut short a first term in office and said that he no longer felt able to continue as prime minister.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigns due to illness

“There must not be time when I am not able to deliver results,” he said, speaking in a calm but sombre voice.

“Now that I am not able to fulfil the mandate from the people with confidence, I have decided that I should no longer occupy the position of the prime minister.”

While speculation about Abe’s political future has been growing in recent weeks, after he twice visited hospital for unspecified health checks, the resignation nonetheless came as a surprise.

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Even as recently as Friday morning, the government’s spokesman had appeared to dismiss concerns about Abe’s health and suggested he would stay on in office.

But Abe made clear that would not be possible, and offered apologies for once again having to cut short his tenure.

“I would like to sincerely apologise to the people of Japan for leaving my post with one year left in my term of office, and amid the coronavirus woes, while various policies are still in the process of being implemented,” he said, bowing deeply.

Who will be Japanese PM Abe’s successor?

As Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces his plans to resign over health problems, attention turns to who could succeed the country’s longest-ruling premier, with no consensus yet clear on a candidate.

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Abe had been expected to stay in office until the end of his term as LDP leader in September 2021, and the jockeying for position to succeed him was still in its early stages.

Still, some potential successors have already emerged, among them Finance Minister Taro Aso, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida.

Kishida is rumoured to be Abe’s personal choice, while Aso commands one of the strongest blocs within the ruling coalition.

Most of the potential successors are seen as unlikely to break significantly with Abe’s policies.

Taro Aso, gaffe-prone finance minister

In his dual role as finance minister and deputy prime minister, 79-year-old Taro Aso is a Liberal Democratic Party old-timer.

A close Abe ally, Aso was prime minister from 2008-09 and has been deputy prime minister and finance minister since 2012.

Aso stepped down as premier after his ruling LDP was booted from office in a historic defeat in 2009, and has long been rumoured to nurse hopes of another chance at the top office.

His long political career has been punctuated by repeated gaffes, including comments that the elderly should “hurry up and die” instead of costing the government money, and that Tokyo could learn from Nazi Germany when it comes to constitutional reform.

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But he has weathered the multiple furores over his comments, and leads a major faction in the LDP.

He backed a massive stimulus programme in the face of the 2008 global financial crisis, but later shifted to stressing the importance of reducing the country’s snowballing debt.

Shigeru Ishiba, popular ex-defence minister

Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba is considered a military geek but is also a self-confessed fan of 1970s pop music.

The 63-year-old former banker is the scion of a political family and seen as a strong orator with significant experience — he entered parliament at just 29.

Like Abe, Ishiba is a defence hawk who wants to strengthen the role of the country’s Self-Defense Forces in the pacifist constitution, and he has even mused about whether Japan should reconsider its policy forbidding nuclear weapons on its soil.

He has served in several cabinet posts and is a popular choice to succeed Abe among the public.

Ishiba is less favoured by his fellow ruling party lawmakers, partly because he once left the LDP.

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He was the sole challenger to Abe in the party’s 2018 leadership contest and was heavily defeated.

Yoshihide Suga, power player and adviser

Yoshihide Suga, 71, rose to national prominence as a trusted Abe adviser and was a key proponent of his bid for the premiership after a disastrous first term.

After Abe returned to power in 2012, he appointed Suga chief cabinet secretary, a powerful position that coordinates the efforts of government ministries and the ruling party.

He is also often the face of the government, delivering regular press briefings and famously revealed the name of the new imperial era declared with the ascension of Emperor Naruhito in 2019 — the Reiwa era.

He is a rare self-made lawmaker in a ruling party filled with hereditary politicians and former technocrats, and is the eldest son of a strawberry farmer.

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Suga moved to Tokyo after high school and worked odd jobs to put himself through night college.

He was first elected in 1987, as a municipal assembly member in Yokohama, and won a lower house seat in 1996.

Fumio Kishida, favoured successor to PM Abe

Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida currently serves as the ruling party’s policy chief and is often described as Abe’s preferred successor, but his soft-spoken, low-key presence and alleged lack of charisma are seen as possible obstacles.

Elected from Hiroshima, Kishida worked to invite then-US president Barack Obama for a historic visit to the city that was devastated by the world’s first war-time atomic bomb explosion.

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He has been credited with helping cement a deal between Japan and South Korea in 2015 that was meant to end the long-running dispute between the countries over the use of sex slaves during Japan’s occupation.

Taro Kono, colourful Twitter user

Defence Minister Taro Kono was once considered an ambitious and independent-minded political reformer, but the 57-year-old has toned down his rhetoric in recent years as a key member of Abe’s cabinet.

After a stint as a government reform minister, Georgetown-educated Kono served as foreign minister between 2017-2019 before becoming defence minister.

He travelled extensively as Japan’s top diplomat, but also oversaw the deterioration of ties with South Korea over unresolved wartime disputes.

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In recent years, he has largely avoided discussing his passionate opposition to nuclear power, given the government’s official support, and despite his independent image he is seen as close to both Aso and Suga.

Often contrasted with his father, political dove Yohei Kono, he has also set himself apart with his online presence, maintaining personal Twitter accounts in Japanese and English.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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