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For Japan PM, Olympic delay may be no sweat


Shinzo Abe
 TOKYO, March 26: In 2016, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke with his staid public image to pop up in Rio dressed as Super Mario for the official handover of the Olympic Games to Tokyo.

The stunt reflected his commitment to an event that was supposed to be the crowning glory of his tenure. But analysts say the historic delay of the Games over the coronavirus may not be all bad news for Abe.

If the country’s longest-serving premier can see off the twin threats of a larger-scale outbreak of the virus in Japan and a major economic crisis caused by the pandemic, he could even end up extending his tenure, due to expire in September 2021, experts say.

Abe has bet heavily on Japan hosting the Games, casting them as a chance to showcase recovery after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, and delaying them would once have been seen as an “unthinkable political defeat,” said Tobias Harris, senior vice president at consultancy Teneo.

But the rapidly expanding coronavirus epidemic has changed the political calculus, making holding the Games a greater risk than putting it off for now, he said.

The delay “removes a significant source of uncertainty for the administration and could give a bump to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval ratings, since large majorities support delaying the games,” Harris said.

Japan has so far been something of an outlier in the pandemic, recording around 1,300 cases and 45 deaths, far fewer than in many countries around the world.

If the outbreak can be contained, Abe may find himself with enough support to continue his tenure past September 2021, said Tetsuro Kato, professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. – AFP

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