A pandemic, delayed Olympics and a stagnant economy are all challenges that will have to be met.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, is set to step down from the post he has held for over 8 years due to recurring health troubles. The move will be formalised as soon as his party has chosen a successor to take on the role. This has ignited a race within the party to be the one who will lead the East Asian nation. However, mounting difficulties may turn what is the most coveted position in Japanese government into a poisoned chalice.
PM Abe, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, was originally scheduled to step down in 2021 when his term concluded. However, it is expected that whoever is chosen as the next leader of his Liberal Democratic party will become the new Prime Minister. The party has a firm majority in the country and the successor will likely see out Abe’s term before running in the next election.
The voter’s number one choice to take over is former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba. He is seen as the continuity candidate due to sharing many of the views of the outgoing PM. However, he lacks support within the party who will be making the decision. The second most popular choice is Secretary Yoshihide Suga but has less than half the support of Ishiba among the public.
However, the situation in Japan cannot be described as anything but dire. Its economy, already stagnant, is being battered by the coronavirus. Millions are also losing their jobs most notably women who make up most of the workforce in the hardest-hit sectors. The Olympics hosted under immense financial cost have been postponed negating any tourism windfall that might have occurred. Instead, delays will mean mounting costs that the country can ill afford. The new leader will also be dealing with a more confrontational China, regional absence in the region of allies like the United States and the world’s highest share of the population being over 65 – the danger zone for COVID fatalities. So far, Japan has managed to keep cases low at 67,264 and deaths have only totalled 1,264. However, this may change if a second wave occurs.
Japan has also had to postpone the 2020 Olympics games it was supposed to be hosting due to the pandemic. The costs of hosting the Olympics regularly stretches into the billions so any delay will be costly. Even if the games were to go ahead in the summer of 2021, they would be radically different from the ones we have known in the past.
The games involve thousands of competitors and tens of thousands of more crowd into the stadiums many of whom attend multiple events for the duration of the games, so the chances of person to person transmission are incredibly high. One Japanese expert has even said that it will be impossible for the games to go forward without a vaccine.
Another problem the successor will have to deal with will be the economy. It’s just had its worst quarter on record since 1955. Much of this is fallout from COVID but even before the pandemic, the economy was stagnant. Although an industrialised wealthy nation Japan has been suffering from deflation since the ’80s. Shinzo Abe attempted to institute some reforms to guide the economy out of it.
These reforms came to be known as ‘Abenomics’ by international observers. It was characterised as high government spending and large stimuluses into the economy. This however led to huge deficits and Japan getting the largest debt to GDP ratio of the OCED countries. It has had to spend heavily even more so during this pandemic releasing a rescue package valued at 40% of GDP.
The new Prime Minister will have to carefully manage all of these issues once they get into office or otherwise suffer a quick dismissal at the 2021 elections. Expect lots of confusion and chaos in Japanese politics in the next few months as politicians jostle for positions and power as the administration Abe leaves behind is replaced.