Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated on Friday by a 41-year-old unemployed Japanese man.
July 8th sent shockwaves to the whole world as news spread of the gruesome assassination of former Japanese Prime
Minister and LDP stalwart Shinzo Abe, he was 67. The assassination took place in Nara city where the former Japanese
Prime Minister was addressing an election rally. It was during his speech that Abe was shot by the 41-year-old man
from behind. Two shots were fired at the 67-year-old after which he collapsed as authorities rushed to captivate the
suspect. The rally was taking place on an open street in Nara city, the bullets were fired from a distance of 3 meters.
Abe was immediately airlifted to a hospital where a team of 20 doctors were treating the former Japanese Prime
Minister, who was showing no vital signs. Soon after, a press conference was first held by the Chief Cabinet Secretary
and later by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who strongly condemned the despicable attack and informed about Abe’s
critical condition. Hours later the demise of the Japanese strongman was declared, the cause of death being ‘excessive
bleeding’ and also the penetration of Abe’s heart by one of the bullets.
Knowing Shinzo Abe;
Shinzo Abe was the longest serving Japanese Prime Minster, serving twice in office (2006-2007) and later (2012-2020),
he was at helm for almost nine years in a country, where the average Prime Minster’s term is not more than a year. Abe
was born on the 21st of September 1955 in an elite Japanese family, his grand uncle was a former Prime Minister while
his father served as foreign minister. Before becoming Prime Minister, Abe served as Chief Cabinet Secretary and
president of Japan’s most prominent political party – the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) twice. He resigned as Prime
Minister in September 2020 citing health reasons but was very much active and influential in Japan’s political affairs. The
current Prime Minister – Fumio Kishida previously served first Minster for foreign affairs and later Defense in the Abe
Shinzo Abe graduated from Seikei University in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. From 1978 -1979,
Abe took courses in history, political science and international relations at the University of Southern California. He
briefly worked at a steel company before pursuing government positions including executive assistant to the Minister
of foreign affairs (his father Shintaro Abe), and private secretary to the chairperson of LDP. While serving as secretary
to his father, Abe got the opportunity to visit 81 countries in the 1980s with him, this is considered pivotal in shaping
Abe to be the global statesman of the future.
Abe joined active politics after the demise of his father in 1991, he was first elected to the House of Representatives in
1993. In 1999, he became Director of the Social Affairs Division. He was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Yoshirō
Mori and Junichiro Koizumi Cabinets from 2000 to 2003, after which he was appointed Secretary-General of the
Liberal Democratic Party. Abe was elected President of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on the 23rd of April
First Term as Prime Minister:
On 26 September 2006 Abe became Prime Minister of Japan, he was the youngest to hold the top office at 52. In his
first term, Abe emphasised more on foreign policy and national security, it is also believed that he intended to change
Japan’s pacifist constitution. Abe took a hard-line stance on North Korea and pressed on the abduction issue. Abe
initiated, what would later become one of the most imperative strategic international alliances globally – the QUAD.
The first quadrilateral security dialogue was held in 2007 and comprised Japan, India, US and Australia. Abe sought to
revise or broaden the interpretation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to permit Japan to maintain de jure
military forces. He stated that “we are reaching the limit in narrowing down differences between Japan’s security and
the interpretation of our constitution”. A right-wing politician, Abe supported the controversial Japanese Society for
History Textbook Reform and pushed for a bill to encourage ‘nationalism’ among the Japanese youth. Abe’s popularity
diminished in 2007 due to his conservative views on the ‘Japanese Imperial Succession Controversy’ where he
abandoned a proposed legislative amendment to permit women to inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne.
In the lead-up to the 2007 elections, one of Abe’s minster committed suicide after facing several corruption allegations
and another was found guilty in a major financial scandal. Abe’s popularity also sunk after his stance on the ‘Japanese
Imperial Succession Controversy’. Abe’s ruling LDP also faced defeat in the upper house elections for the first time in
over 52 years. On 12 September 2007, Abe resigned from the post of Prime Minister citing poor health as the prime
Abe was re-elected as LDP President on 26 September 2012. His presidency of the party came at a time of political
turmoil and uncertainty. The governing DPJ had lost its majority in the lower house due to party splits over nuclear
policies and the cabinet’s move to raise the consumption tax from 5 to 10 per cent. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
was forced to rely on the LDP to pass the consumption tax bill and in return was pressured by Abe and the opposition
parties to hold a snap general election. On 16 November 2012, Prime Minister Noda announced the dissolution of the
lower house and that the general election would be held on 16 December. Abe campaigned using the slogan “Nippon o
Torimodosu” (“Take back Japan”), promising economic revival through monetary easing, higher public spending and the
continued use of nuclear energy, and a tough line in territorial disputes. In the elections on 16 December 2012, the
LDP won 294 seats in the 480-seat House of Representatives. Together with the New Komeito Party (which partnered
with the LDP since the late 1990s), Abe was able to form a coalition government that controlled a two-thirds majority
in the lower house, allowing it to override the upper house’s veto.
Second Term as Prime Minister:
On 26 December 2012, Abe became Prime Minister for the second time with the support of 328 out of 480 members
of the House of Representatives. Soon after taking office Abe asserted that Japan’s economy and diplomatic ties were
his prime objectives. He soon brought forward his economic strategy, commonly referred to as ‘Abenomics’, consisting
of the so-called “three arrows”. The first arrow was monetary expansion aimed at achieving a 2% inflation target, the
second a flexible fiscal policy to act as an economic stimulus in the short term, then achieve a budget surplus, and the
third a growth strategy focusing on structural reform and private sector investment to achieve long-term growth.
First Arrow: Abe pressed for the Bank of Japan (BoJ) to follow a policy of monetary aimed at achieving 2% inflation. He
faced resistance from the Bank’s governor but soon made clear his intent to introduce legislation stripping off the bank
of its independence, following this governor Shirakawa resigned and Abe appointed Haruhiko Kuroda as governor.
Kuroda soon announced an aggressive program of easing intended to double the money supply and achieve the 2 per
cent inflation target at “the earliest possible time”. Over the first six months of the second Abe Cabinet, the Yen fell
from a high of ¥77 to the dollar to ¥101.8, and the Nikkei 225 rose by 70 per cent.
Second Arrow: There had been some division within the Abe cabinet between “fiscal hawks”, such as Finance Minister
Aso, who favoured fiscal consolidation through spending cuts and tax increases, and deflationists, such as Abe himself,
who argued in favour of a “growth first” policy that prioritises economic expansion and recovery over budget
considerations using the slogan “no fiscal health without economic revitalization”. Abe’s decision to delay the
consumption tax increase in November 2014 and his push for a large fiscal deficit in the 2015 budget without social
security cuts was interpreted as a victory for this faction within the LDP. The government did, however, commit to a
primary surplus by 2020, and pledged to review its strategy in 2018 if the primary deficit had not fallen to 1 per cent of
GDP by that time.
Third Arrow: Key highlights of Abe’s strategy for growth and structural reform were Japan entering negotiations to
enter the Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TPP), which was aimed at liberalising certain sectors of the economy. Other
measures included plans to establish deregulated economic zones and the online sale of drugs. In June 2014, Abe
announced a package of structural reforms, these new measures included corporate governance reform, the easing of
restrictions on hiring foreign staff in special economic zones, liberalizing the health sector, and measures to help foreign
and local entrepreneurs.
In September 2013 Abe called for a “society in which all women can shine”, setting a target that 30 per cent of
leadership positions should be held by women by 2020. Abe cited the “womenomics” ideas of Kathy Matsui that
greater participation by women in the workforce, which is relatively low in Japan, especially in leadership roles, could
improve Japan’s GDP and potentially fertility rates, in spite of declining population figures.
In the 2013 upper house election, the LDP emerged as the largest party with 115 seats (a gain of 31) and the Komeito
with 20 (a gain of 1), giving Abe’s coalition control of both houses of the Diet, but not the two-thirds majority in the
upper house that would allow for constitutional revision.
Third term as Prime Minister:
Abe was re-elected for a third term on 24 December 2014. Abe called upon the new Diet to enact the “most drastic
reforms since the end of World War II” in the areas of the economy, agriculture, healthcare and other sectors. Abe
took on terrorism by announcing 200 million dollars in non-military assistance to counties combating the Islamic State
of Iraq and Levant as part of a 2.5 billion dollar package. In April 2015, he became the first Japanese Prime Minister to
address the joint session of the US Congress, where he referred to the US-Japan partnership as an “Alliance of Hope”.
The Abe cabinet introduced 11 bills making up the “Peace and Security Preservation Legislation” into the Diet in May
2015, which pushed for a limited expansion of military powers to fight in a foreign conflict. The principal aims of the
bills were to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of allied nations under attack (even if Japan itself was
not) and to expand their scope to support international peacekeeping operations. In December 2015, the Abe
government announced the creation of a new intelligence unit, the International Counterterrorism Intelligence
Collection Unit, to aid counter-terrorism operations, to be based in the Foreign Ministry but led by the Prime
Minister’s Office. In the same month, the cabinet approved Japan’s largest-ever defence budget, at 5.1 trillion yen (45
billion USD), for the fiscal year beginning in April 2016.
In September 2015, Abe was re-elected unopposed as President of the LDP this was followed by a cabinet reshuffle. At
a press conference after his official re-election as LDP president, Abe announced that the next stage of his
administration would focus on what he called “Abenomics 2.0”, the aim of which was to tackle issues of low fertility
and an ageing population and create a society “in which every one of Japan’s 100 million citizens can take on active
roles”. This new policy consisted of targets which Abe referred to as “three new arrows”; to boost Japan’s GDP to 600
trillion yen by 2021, raise the national fertility rate from an average of 1.4 to 1.8 children per woman and stabilize the
population at 100 million, and to create a situation where people would not have to leave employment to care for
elderly relatives by the mid-2020s.
Fourth term as Prime Minister:
Abe called a snap election almost a month before scheduled in 2017 and was re-elected as Prime Minister. In 2018, he
achieved both, the feat to be Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister as well as longest-serving PM in terms of
consecutive days. In his last term as Prime Minister, Abe faced several challenges, from being accused of being involved
in a financial scandal, termed by the opposition as ‘Abegate’ to witnessing support for his administration shrink from
40% to 27%. Nevertheless, Abe achieved significant feats on the foreign policy front, he welcomed the 2018 DPRK-US
summit and pressed President Trump to raise the matter of the abduction of Japanese citizens. In 2018, Abe visited
China to mitigate bilateral ties and held several meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he even invited Xi to visit
Japan. Abe cautioned Xi Jinping over protests in Hong Kong at the G20 Summit. Abe told Xi it is important for “a free
and open Hong Kong to prosper under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy.” In July 2018, Japan became the second
country after Mexico to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
CPTPP evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which never came into force after Donald Trump withdrew the
United States from the agreement in early 2017. Abe’s administration was credited with overcoming protectionist
pressures within Japan and rallying the 10 other TPP member countries to support CPTPP, which largely kept the
previous agreement intact and left the door open to an eventual US return.
Throughout the summer of 2020, Abe was hospitalised multiple times as his colitis relapsed. On 28 August 2020, Abe
announced his intentions to retire as Prime Minister as it was getting difficult for him to discharge his duties while
receiving treatment for his illness.
Even after resigning from the premiership of the country, Abe was the most significant political figure in Japan. His
faction in the ruling LDP is said to be the largest and most influential one.
Abe was often referred to as the “shadow shogun” due to his profound influence on Japanese politics during his life.
After his assassination, Japanologist Michael Green described Abe as “the most consequential modern Japanese leader”
and argued that Japan’s future appears to be that of Abe’s “vision”. Following Abe’s assassination, the LDP–Komeito
coalition won a majority of the available seats in the upper house in the 10 July election.
Shinzo Abe was Japan’s longest-serving and most remarkable Prime Minister, his political career and public life are
entrenched strongly in the memories of the people of Japan. In him, the world has lost one of the most courageous
and perspicacious leaders it ever saw.