Mr Shinzo Abe’s sudden announcement that he will leave office a year early, made days after he achieved the record of becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in the post-World War II era, has been received with shock and for many, dismay. Mr Abe said the recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a disease he has suffered since childhood, made it difficult for him to give his office the full attention it deserves. In 2007, the same condition caused him to cut short his first stint in office after barely a year. But advances in medicine had offered treatments that held the disease in check. Amid the tensions of battling the worst pandemic outbreak in living memory and heightened geopolitical tensions, his ailment seems to have returned.
Mr Abe will be missed, and not just at home where he presided over a Japanese resurgence that would have been highlighted by the hosting of the Olympic Games this year, a swansong that was not to be because of the Covid-19 outbreak. On his watch, Japanese diplomacy played off the front foot in Asia – whether in bolstering the Japan-United States alliance, enlisting wider support for the Indo-Pacific concept which he fashioned both as a strategic and economic plan, or in midwifing a credible trade pact from the remnants of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was rejected by US President Donald Trump. He also made it a point to visit Asean capitals, partly to signal the region’s centrality in Asian affairs.