BOSTON, Massachusetts — The assassination of Japan’s former and longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe occurred while he was speaking at a far-right political event on July 8. His killing shocked the country and political leaders across the globe, especially due to how rare gun and political violence is in Japan. Abe was a House of Representatives member and former president of the country’s dominant conservative political group, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In an election held just two days after Abe’s killing, the LDP gained 63 seats of the 125 up for grabs — and combined with the seats their coalition partners won, the party now has a supermajority in Japan’s Parliament. Abe strongly influenced the LDP for decades and Japan’s current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, is vowing to do Abe’s legacy justice. So, what’s next for politics in Japan?
The Legacy Left Behind
The motivation of Abe’s suspected assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, still largely remains a mystery, but it is clear that he did not kill off the political powerhouse’s legacy. “I have the responsibility to take over the ideas of former Prime Minister Abe,” Kishida said to a crowd the day after Abe’s killing and one day prior to the election, the New York Times reported. Abe’s unfinished political plans remain at the forefront of the LDP.
During his second stint as prime minister after he resigned from his first term because of a medical condition and his persisting unpopularity, Abe introduced “Abenomics.” In 2013, he declared deflation to be Japan’s most pressing issue and that he focused on elevating the country’s economy so it could compete in the modern world. Abenomics was a three-prong strategy consisting of monetary easing from state banks, a stimulus package and structural reform in agricultural industries.
Although the strategy failed to hit most of its goals, experts say that Abenomics did jump-start Japan’s economy and boost markets.
For decades, Abe advocated for increasing defense spending and revising the pacifist clause in Japan’s constitution to no longer renounce war. He did not achieve these goals in his lifetime, but Abe’s interest in condemning and preparing for China’s growing military could affect how current political leaders manage Japan’s armed forces.
From the beginning of his political career to its end, Abe was adamant about strengthening the alliance between Japan and the U.S. While the alliance looked different with each presidency, Abe utilized his relatively good relationship with America to stay at an arm’s length from Russia and to make strides in challenging China’s progressing control of the Indo-Pacific.
Abe is credited with coining the term “Indo-Pacific,” which has replaced “Asia-Pacific” in most parts of the globe. In another effort to curtail China’s growing dominance over Asia, Abe sought a “Confluence of the Two Seas,” where India would receive proper recognition as vital to the region’s survival of China-centric efforts. Many considered Abe’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision one of his greatest successes in politics in Japan.
The Future of Politics in Japan
Kishida will remain in power until 2025, giving him plenty of time to enact change with the LDP supermajority. After Abe resigned as prime minister again in 2020 because of his recurring health issue, he remained a close advisor to Kishida. The prime minister is now tasked with balancing Abe’s legacy and forging his own policies. Kishida has said that he will continue to strengthen national security and carry out Abe’s long-time goal of amending the pacifist clause in the Constitution. He now has the two-thirds majority needed to bring a vote on the revision to the public.
However, Kishida has said that he will work to phase out Abenomics in favor of a capitalistic economy. Residents are anticipating the details of his new economic plan as food inflation worsens across the country.
Japan’s citizens have started to criticize the government for prioritizing the military over their rising food prices. Japan does not collect standardized data on household food insecurity, but surveys from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research show that, as of 2018, between 15% and 17% of the country’s population was food insecure. Hunger in Japan could have worsened over the course of the pandemic, as it did across the globe. Food insecurity has become a defining issue for politics in Japan and Kishida’s new economic strategy could likely address it.
Political analysts are wary of how much power the LDP has acquired in politics in Japan. Abe was a controversial leader, partially for his attempts at revising history. For decades, he denied that up to 200,000 women — mainly of Chinese and Korean descent — were forced into Japanese military brothels from the early 1930s to 1945, despite the fact that victims had come forward and the chief cabinet secretary at the time apologized for the abuse.
Critics of Abe are worried that Japan’s far-right nationalist leaders will take after America’s Republican Party and former President Donald Trump, who have manipulated U.S. historical facts for political gain in times of unpopularity. At this point, the politics in Japan are controversial. However, with the LDP’s growing popularity under Kishida, it isn’t moving in that direction only.
– Delaney Murray