What does Shinzo Abe’s shock departure mean for Japan’s future?


Before Shinzo Abe came to power in 2012, the entrance to the Japanese prime minister’s office may as well have been a revolving door. 

From 1993 to 2012, there were 13 prime ministers (including Abe, in his year-long first term).

Abe bucked that trend, remarkably. He became the country’s longest-serving prime minister earlier this month.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces his resignation
Mr Abe announced his resignation in a televised news conference

That stability offered the opportunity to steadily pursue stimulatory reforms for an economy that had been drifting.

Such is his influence, that programme even took his name – Abenomics.

So, his departure will come as a shock – and indeed the rumours of his resignation sent the Nikkei, the Japanese stock index, down.

That may seem surprising given Abe’s final term was going to expire next year anyway.

More from Japan

That year will be important for Japan amid the pandemic – not in terms of dealing with COVID-19 itself, which Japan has handled well, recording only 1,241 deaths at the same time as avoiding lockdowns (although Abe’s administration has still received a lot of criticism) – but more for the postponed 2020 Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo next summer.

Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe lay wreathes to commemorate the dead of Pearl Harbor

Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe at Pearl Harbour

Japan is determined to press ahead with the games but researchers in the country have told Sky News they depend on a vaccine being widely available.

A change in leadership may complicate efforts to get the country ready.

Abe may be hoping that by announcing his resignation now, his successor will have enough time to see it over the line.

Longer term, there is one main question: can Abenomics survive without Abe?

The programme was already in some trouble with him in charge. Japan entered a recession before the larger effects of COVID.

If the revolving door starts spinning once more, and no successor is able to match Abe’s sticking power, things might start to drift again.

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