While I was prepared for the possibility that Abe could resign after he visited the hospital twice in eight days, the rumor mill had swung away from talk of resignation mid-week. When I went to sleep Thursday night, I planned on waking up to watch his press conference that would start at 4:00am EDT but I assumed he would explain his health issues but not resign.
Therefore, I was surprised when I woke to my alarm at 3:50am Friday and already had several emails for comment in my inbox and tweets imploring me to wake up. Never, never, never had I thought – even at the start of August – that Abe would resign one day after my book about him was officially released.
What followed was a nineteen hours of interviews for radio, TV, and print media. I’ve collected links to as many as I could find.
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“Abe wanted to be a transformational prime minister,” said Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at Teneo Intelligence in Washington and the author of “The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan.”
“But the most difficult, potentially transformative decisions about Japan’s place in the world will be made by his successor, because Abe ended up being a prime minister who prioritized stability over the risks of transformation.”
Tobias Harris, author of “The Iconoclast,” an English-language biography of Abe, said the outgoing prime minister’s real legacy will lie in what he did behind the scenes in the halls of Japanese government, building institutions and centralizing power to be able to set trade and defense policy and exert diplomatic influence.
Yet he didn’t use that consolidated authority to take bolder steps on climate change or in economic policy, Harris said.
“What were his priorities? Should he have spent as much time talking about constitutional reform or a peace treaty with Russia?” Harris said, citing two of Abe’s stated goals that were never realized. “Were there things he could’ve done differently with that power?”
Harris said Abe would be leaving many of Japan’s most serious crises for his successor to deal with, including dramatic demographic declines and deteriorated diplomatic relations with neighbors in Asia.
“Too often he chose stability over deep structural change,” Harris said.
But where Mr Abe did succeed was in forging what his recent biographer, Tobias Harris, called an “Abe Doctrine” for Japanese foreign policy, committing Japan to “a new vocation as the defender of the global rules-based economic order”. He sought to build alliances across Asia based on a shared commitment to the rule of law — and thus resistance to any attempt by China to change the status quo without consent.
“While he made some significant reforms by patiently deploying the power he had accumulated, he was unable to reverse the underlying causes of national decline,” writes Japan analyst Tobias Harris in a coming biography of Mr. Abe.
“Ishiba won’t be able to overcome the party’s resistance in the short time window,” said Tobias Harris, a Japan expert at consulting firm Teneo Intelligence and author of a recently released biography of Abe, “The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan.”
Kishida, meanwhile, leads a midsize faction with 47 lawmakers, one of the more liberal groups within the LDP. The former foreign minister has long been considered the “heir” to Abe, patiently waiting his turn to become prime minister.
But Kishida, 63, has often struggled to find the limelight. Some, even within his inner circle, say he lacks charisma, which could become a liability for LDP lawmakers in a snap election or when the House of Representatives’ current term ends in October 2021.
While Suga has long maintained he has no intention to pursue the top job, saying he has “never thought about it,” he has become a powerful figure as one of Abe’s closest aides since the prime minister’s return to power in late 2012.
While Suga does not belong to a faction and therefore has fewer guaranteed votes, Harris said he has “clear strengths on the merits,” having been a top decision maker for nearly eight years and providing continuity with the previous administration.
Under a clause designed for urgent situations, a successor could be a chosen in a vote mostly limited to the party’s elected lawmakers, as opposed to the usual process, a vote that gives weight to the party’s broader membership. But blocking a wider vote could have repercussions for the party and “the next prime minister would have a limited mandate and could be vulnerable to criticism from within the party,” Tobias Harris, an analyst of Japanese politics, wrote in a note for Teneo Intelligence.