07/08/2022, 10.54
JAPAN
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Abe, the man behind Japan's post-Fukushima recovery, declared dead

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Japanese media report he had died in Nara hospital. The longest-serving Prime Minister in Japan's recent history, he had left government leadership for health reasons, but continued to play a leading role in the Liberal Democratic Party. Economic reforms, nationalism and a push for rearmament were his policies that deeply polarised public opinion. 

Tokyo (AsiaNews) -  The Japanese media announced the death of Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese prime minister who was brought to the hospital in Nara this morning dying after being shot by an attacker during a rally in this conservative stronghold to promote his party in the country's current election campaign.

Abe is Japan's most influential politician in the past decade. In addition to being the longest-serving prime minister in the country's history - with a first term between 2006 and 2007 and a second term between 2012 and 2020 - Abe has been the architect of Japan's post-Fukushima renaissance. With his heterodox economic policies (dubbed Abenomics), his focus on security reforms, and his international activism, Shinzo Abe has tried to shake up a country rapidly ageing and in deep social crisis. But at the same time during his career as prime minister and even afterwards, he was one of the politicians who most polarised public opinion in Japan.

Although a health problem forced him to step down as head of government in September 2020, Abe remained active in party politics. Last year during the consultations to select a new prime minister, he was one of the architects of the rise of the current premier Fumio Kishida. Since then he has been the main supporter, but also the main rival, of Kishida.

Over the past year, Japanese politics has in fact been characterised by an underground clash between Abe and Kishida. The former premier's support is crucial for any Japanese government, due to the fact that the largest internal group within the LDP - the Liberal Democratic Party that has a majority in the lower house - refers precisely to Abe. Indeed, the LDP, as a right-wing party, has within it a large current of nationalists and conservatives who see the former premier as their political leader. Without their support Kishida, whose personal political leanings are much more moderate, would never have succeeded in becoming premier.

Abe's role in the recent political scenario has been as a flagship for the reform of the country's defence and security policies. There are basically two stated objectives: to bring military spending down to 2% and to reform the pacifist constitution. At the moment, the unwritten norm of Japanese policy is that the government must spend no more than 1% on defence, but according to Abe and his supporters this would not be enough in the current uncertain scenario: doubling to 2% would not only deliver new resources to the armed forces, but would also ideally be an adjustment to the parameters of NATO, with which Japan is strengthening its partnership.

The amendment to the 1947 Constitution, on the other hand, concerns Article 9, the one according to which Japan renounces the right of belligerency and the possession of military potential. Since the 1950s, however, the country has maintained what in all but name is a full-fledged army with navy and air force, under the name 'Self-Defence Forces'. Over the years, various proposals have circulated on how to amend the constitution, but the most recent version (and the one most readily accepted by the population) adopted by Abe is the one that simply adds a paragraph expressly recognising the legitimate existence of the Self-Defence Forces.

The 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami - who struck Abe this morning - was a former member of the Japanese navy. A circumstance that might suggest a connection to these events, although at the moment there are still no certain indications as to his motive. 

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