What happened to Abe?
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“All you need to do is check the prime minister’s face!”
That’s what senior reporters would advise when a reporter gains access to the prime minister’s residence in Japan. In the first tenure of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007, he stepped down because of chronic ulcerative colitis. So, whenever the government is in trouble, journalists had to confirm whether Abe had a health issue.
In retrospect, it is presumed that Abe’s health worsened in July. He was not exposed to the media for a long time since a news conference on June 19, around the time of the closure of the regular Diet session. As Covid-19 spreads rapidly again, his “Go-To” campaign to boost the economy was heavily criticized. In an opinion poll, his approval rating fell to the 30 percent level.
“Hasn’t he lost weight?”
Reporters started to talk as he fled the news conference after only 15 minutes following the memorial event for the victims of the Hiroshima bombing on Aug. 6. He was caught on camera frowning as if he was in pain. This was shortly after a weekly magazine reported that he had coughed up blood and seemed to have health problems. Correspondents whose job is tracing the prime minister’s every move didn’t fail to notice that he was walking awkwardly.
Speculation over his health issue was confirmed as Abe visited a hospital on Aug. 17. His office said that it was for a health checkup, but rumors circulated of him being urgently admitted to the hospital. Actually, he was seen visiting the hospital again after a week, rendering the assumption that the visit was for treatment to be more convincing.
While some predict that he will step down soon, the atmosphere in Nagata-cho, where the Diet and party headquarters are located, is cautious, as there is no Plan B prepared for Abe’s departure. As proof, politicians competing to be post-Abe leaders have increased their media exposure.
His party’s approval rating is too low to hold an election soon. There is no justification to dissolve the lower house, either. A source pointed out that everyone is restraining themselves because of Covid-19, and no one would like an election that local governments cannot afford.
Most of all, an election is a challenge as Abe remains the party leader. It is generally assumed that Abe’s health condition is not sound enough to travel around the nation to campaign.
Nevertheless, people are tired of Abe’s long tenure. In the meantime, rumors of the vice prime minister serving as acting prime minister and Abe’s departure prevail. On the day that Abe became the longest-serving prime minister for 2,799 days, he spent the most painful time in office.