Shinzo Abe was a political blueblood groomed for power. Japan's longest serving prime minister, he was also perhaps the most polarizing, complex politician in recent Japanese history, the AP reports. Abe, who was assassinated Friday, angered both liberals at home and World War II victims in Asia with his hawkish push to revamp the military and his revisionist view that Japan was given an unfair verdict by history for its brutal past. At the same time, he revitalized Japan’s economy, led efforts for the nation to take a stronger role in Asia, and served as a rare beacon of political stability before stepping down two years ago for health reasons.
Abe was a darling of conservatives but reviled by many liberals in Japan. And no policy was more divisive than his cherished, ultimately unsuccessful dream to revise Japan’s war-renouncing constitution. His ultra-nationalism also angered the Koreas and China, both wartime victims of Japan. That push for constitutional revision stemmed from his personal history. Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi—who co-signed the 1941 declaration of war against the US as a member of Tojo's cabinet—despised the US-drafted constitution, adopted during the American postwar occupation. For Abe, too, the 1947 charter was symbolic of what he saw as the unfair legacy of Japan’s war defeat and an imposition of the victors’ world order and Western values.
Abe's political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a "normal" and "beautiful" nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affairs. He was also a driving force for Japanese conservatives’ efforts to whitewash wartime atrocities and push for an end to apologies. Supporters point to his efforts to raise Japan's profile on the international stage, and his proposal for a new order of like-minded democracies as a counter to China’s rise, something Washington and others soon endorsed. Abe became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52, but his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended a year later because of his health.
When he returned to office in 2012, Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his "Abenomics" formula, which combined fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power. He stepped down as prime minister in 2020 because he said the ulcerative colitis he’d had since he was a teenager resurfaced. He told reporters at the time that it was "gut wrenching” to leave many of his goals unachieved, including revising the constitution. He left office as Japan's longest-serving prime minister by consecutive days in office, eclipsing the record of Eisaku Sato, his great-uncle, who served 2,798 days from 1964 to 1972.
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