Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday he will step down over health problems. Public broadcaster NHK had earlier said Abe, who has been suffering from the disease ulcerative colitis for years, wanted to avoid causing problems for the government due to his deteriorating condition. Two recent hospital visits within a week had sparked speculations about his health. Abe returned to power as prime minister for a second term in December 2012, vowing to revive growth with “Abenomics”, which a medley of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and reforms.
Under Abe’s leadership, relations between India and Japan also scaled new heights. Most recently, the two countries have stressed that they are working side-by-side with other partners of the Quad or quadrilateral coalition, to maintain a secure Indo-Pacific, against the backdrop of an increasingly aggressive China.
He would continue until formally replaced, which would involve the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) electing a new leader, who would then be officially elected in the Diet. Here are some of his likely successors:
Aso, aged 79, has been one of the core members of Abe’s team. In case there is ambiguity on who should take over the reins from Abe, LDP lawmakers could elect Aso as a temporary leader if Abe decides to step down. Notably, in 2008, Aso was elected LDP leader and thus, prime minister, with expectations that he would be able to boost the party’s prospects. However, the LDP saw a drubbing in 2009 and was relegated to the position of the opposition for the next three years. Aso, who is the grandson of a former prime minister, is someone who has a rich policy experience and has a fondness for manga.
The ex-defence minister and also a vocal critic of Abe, Ishiba, is believed to be popular among voters but is not as well-liked within the party. He has also held portfolios such as agriculture and reviving local economies. He had managed to secure a victory against Abe in the first round of a party presidential election in 2012, but could not replicate this feat in the second round when only Diet members could cast their vote. Then, in a 2018 party leadership poll, Ishiba lost heavily to Abe.
Kishida, aged 63, was foreign minister under Abe from 2012 to 2017, however, diplomacy was largely the prime minister’s domain. The low-profile lawmaker from Hiroshima Prefecture, while believed to be a potential successor, does not top surveys. What sets him apart is that Kishida is viewed as less inclined towards changing the postwar Constitution’s pacifist Article 9 than Abe.
Fifty-six-year-old Defense Minister Taro Kono is viewed as a non-conformist but has largely backed Abe on key policy issues, such as a firm position on the row with South Korea over wartime history. Kono, who studied at Georgetown University is a fluent English speaker. He was previously the foreign minister and minister for administrative reform.
71-year-old Suga, who has risen from the party ranks and has been loyal to Abe since his tumultuous term as prime minister in 2006 and 2007, was among those who backed Abe’s bid in 2012. As the chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga has been managing bureaucrats, policies and is the government’s leading spokesperson. However, Suga’s image received a significant blow after scandals downed two Cabinet ministers considered close to him in October last year.
Koizumi, the environment minister and the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is frequently touted as Japan’s future leader. However, the 39-year-old is seen as too young for the top post. He, too, holds conservative views on certain issues and recently visited the Tokyo’s contentious Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead.
(Wth inputs from Reuters)