Nobody ruled Japan longer, hardly anyone was so controversial: The deadly assassination attempt on ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shocked far beyond the borders of the island state. A look at the man who set out to “bring Japan back to its former strengths”.

Some considered him a patriot who wanted to “bring Japan back” to its old strength. The other as a right-wing, scandal-ridden populist and foreign policy hardliner, under whom Asia’s oldest democracy has turned away from pacifist post-war politics. The fact is: Shinzo Abe shaped Japan over the past decade, no one ruled longer than he did. He was in power from December 2012 to September 2020, and previously from September 2006 to September 2007. He resigned as prime minister in September 2020 due to health problems. On Friday he was campaigning in the city of Nara before he was shot. Abe died in the hospital at the age of 67 as a result of extensive blood loss. A look at Shinzo Abe’s political legacy.

Abe’s lifelong dream: an end to post-war pacifism

“He helped shape Japanese history and was always committed to multilateralism and our common foundation of values,” tweeted a spokesman for the former German government under Angela Merkel in 2020, when Abe had just announced his resignation. However, the balance of his long term in office, which was overshadowed by scandals surrounding nepotism, is mixed. It was particularly bitter for Abe that he did not achieve his political goal in life: a revision of the pacifist post-war constitution. Abe always believed that the constitution was not that of an independent nation, having been imposed on Japan in 1946 by the occupying United States.

He did, however, manage to drive in a few posts. So he had the constitution “reinterpreted” without further ado in order to expand the role of the military alongside today’s protecting power, the USA. Against great resistance from the people, he had security laws put into effect that enable combat missions abroad. Bans on arms exports were eased and a State Secrets Protection Act was enacted, bringing critics to mind of the period leading up to World War II.

The farewell to the purely defensive orientation of the state led to the largest mass protests in five decades. Abe justified all of this with the increased tensions in the region – he recently saw himself strengthened by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Now he seems to have fallen victim to a former member of the very military Abe held so dear. The suspected gunman reportedly told police he had no grudges against Abe’s political beliefs but was “dissatisfied” with him.

Abe’s nationalist aspirations never garnered widespread popular support during his tenure. But Abe managed that the opposition is fragmented and weak, the state media have become even more reserved than before, and many younger people in particular are taking an apolitical stance.

Abe’s grandfather Kishi: suspected war criminal and prime minister

Abe’s grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, was arrested by the Allies after World War II as a suspected war criminal, but was never put on trial. In 1957 Kishi became Prime Minister. His grandson Abe is considered by critics to be a right-wing populist and staunch nationalist who wants to whitewash Japan’s wartime past.

Abe gained his initial popularity with his tough stance on North Korea on the issue of kidnapping Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also unable to solve this problem during his tenure.

“Abenomics”: Abe’s policies made the economy grow – and inequality

Economically, Abe wanted to lead Japan out of decades of deflation and stagnation with his “Abenomics” economic policy of cheap money, debt-financed economic stimulus injections and the promise of structural reforms. In the meantime, the world’s third-largest economy, ahead of Germany, has experienced the longest growth phase in years under Abe, and the stock market is booming. The companies also became very profitable overall. At the same time, however, “Abenomics” led to the profits being distributed unequally, his critics complained.

A key factor in Abe’s economic program, reports the “New York Times, was his attempt to empower women. Abe’s idea: more employed women could offset the losses from a sharply declining, aging population. But so are many of the promises of the ” Abe did not fulfill the Womenomics” agenda – including a drastic increase in the proportion of women in management and in government.

Abe’s foreign policy: hosts for Trump and Obama, unsuccessful negotiations with Putin

When it comes to foreign policy, the US newspaper Abe also gives mixed reports. Among other things, the visit of Barack Obama, who was the first US President to visit Hiroshima, was memorable. Abe also saw himself as one of the few heads of state with Donald Trump, whom he received twice.

Abe’s attempt to settle the decades-long dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands in the Pacific, which Japan calls its “northern territories,” was also unsuccessful. They fell to the Soviet Union after World War II. The dispute has prevented the conclusion of a peace treaty to this day. Relations with China and South Korea continue to be difficult due to island disputes and Japan’s handling of its wartime past.

Sources: DPA, “New York Times”