Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed regret for leaving “so many policies” unfinished after announcing his intention to resign on Friday due to his ongoing battle with aggravated ulcerous colitis.
Seven years and eight months after stepping into the role, Abe stated at a press conference, “We can’t afford any mistakes in important political decisions if my judgment is clouded by pain. I no longer have the capacity to confidently fulfill the role entrusted to me by the citizens, so I have decided I am no longer in a position to serve as Prime Minister.”
Stepping aside with one year remaining on his term, Abe added, “I deeply apologize for resigning with so many policies left unfinished, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I deeply regret that I was unable to resolve the North Korea kidnapping issue myself. I am heartbroken to leave with the peace treaty with Russia and the constitutional reforms unfinished.”
Abe has also failed to fulfil his dream of seeing the nation develop its first integrated resorts, with the government yet to publish its IR Basic Policy and a delay expected to the timeline for submissions to the government by localities and their partner operators. The submissions period is currently set for January to July 2021.
Joji Kokuryo, Managing Director of Yokohama-based consultancy Bay City Ventures, told Inside Asian Gaming during last week’s online GAME event that although delays may occur, the departure of Abe won’t see any change to Japan’s IR policy.
“This is already a national policy that has passed through the houses and has been enacted, so unless someone comes up with a new law that nullifies the previous law, the policy itself won’t change,” he said.
“Whether or not it proceeds is another story. Unless there is another majority party that takes over the central government in both the lower and upper houses, the policy itself will continue to move forward, be it slowly or fast.
“I don’t think we really need to worry too much about whether it will exist in the future. That is also based on the fact that there is no strong opposition party at the moment.
“Even if there is a lower house election this year or next year, that wouldn’t be the only variable to change everthing. That would just be one step.
“At this point I would say the status quo is quite secure in the national government.”
For the time being, Abe emphasized that he won’t allow a political vacuum and plans to fulfill his responsibilities until the next prime minister has been appointed.
The method for selecting a new prime minister will be officially announced at the executive council scheduled for 1 September. The new Prime Minister will complete Abe’s term, meaning whoever is selected will serve until September 2021.
Willing candidates so far include Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Chairman of the Policy Affairs Research Council Fumio Kishida, former Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, Minister of Defense Taro Kono and election campaign strategy committee chair Hirofumi Shimomura.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso has announced that he will not run for office.
Nomura research analyst Takashi Miwa said in a note that Abe’s successor is unlikely to stray too far from his economic policies.
“However, compared with the tight rein that Mr Abe kept on policy, there is almost inevitably going to be some loss of political cohesion, even if only temporarily. And while the market will no doubt welcome the likely continuation of the Abe administration’s policies, those policies may no longer be seen as being as sustainable as they once were.”
Miwa added that of all the candidates, Suga was likely to follow Abe’s policy goals most closely, among them the development of IRs.
“Having served as Chief Cabinet Secretary since December 2012, he has had a guiding hand in the way successive (second to fourth) Abe administrations have kept a tight rein on policy and can be expected to maintain that style if elected,” he said.
“As well as continuing Mr Abe’s policy of reforming the social security system, we expect he would continue his policies of promoting tourism, including legalizing casinos.”