TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marked 3,000 days in office on Thursday, a new landmark as the longest-serving Japanese leader, though his current term has been overshadowed by the new coronavirus taking a toll on the country’s economy.
Combined with his short 2006-2007 stint, Abe became the longest-serving prime minister in November, overtaking Taro Katsura, who led the country for 2,886 days in the early 1900s.
If he stays in office through Aug. 24, he will also become the longest-serving prime minister without counting his first stint in office, eclipsing the record held by his great uncle Eisaku Sato.
But his economic policies, dubbed Abenomics, have struggled in the face of the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy as it has prompted the halt of many business activities and cancellations of events.
Critics say Abe still lacks any significant achievements to cement his position in history.
His ambitious goal of making a first-ever amendment to the Constitution is nowhere in sight, as no substantive progress has been made in the Diet since he returned to power in 2012.
Abe has been attempting to combat the virus by introducing various new measures. On Tuesday, Japan adopted a fresh 1 trillion yen ($9.6 billion) level emergency package for businesses hit by the outbreak, featuring 500 billion yen in zero-interest loans for small and medium-sized businesses short of cash due to sharp falls in sales.
The new measures came about a month after the government launched the first package featuring low-interest loans totaling 500 billion yen for small and medium-sized companies in the tourism and other virus-hit sectors.
But the effectiveness of the packages is seen as limited against the adverse effects of the virus, which originated in China and has since spread to many parts of the world.
Abe is also battling against time as Tokyo is counting down to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer.
Progress in debate on amending the Constitution is also not expected as discussions in the Diet are centering on the government’s response to the virus.
Abe has been pushing for adding a reference to the Self-Defense Forces in the war-renouncing Article 9 as part of the constitutional amendment.
Without touching the current two clauses of the article, Abe has proposed adding a third paragraph to recognize and legitimize the existence of the SDF. But the Japanese public is divided over such an amendment, and there is concern that it could provoke South Korea and China, both of which suffered from Japan’s wartime militarism.
Abe also faces the hurdles of addressing outstanding diplomatic issues such as territorial disputes over four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido, as well as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.