Shinzo Abe has confirmed he is stepping down as Japan’s PM, saying his health has deteriorated and he does not want it to affect policy decisions.
- Shinzo Abe quit his first term as prime minister in 2007 due to ill health
- Recent visits to hospital have sparked speculation about his current condition
- Mr Abe is Japan’s longest-serving leader, after retaking top office in 2012
Speaking from the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo, Mr Abe said his health had started declining in the middle of last month.
Mr Abe has had ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment.
“I have decided that I will step down as prime minister, with the belief that I cannot continue being prime minister if I do not have the confidence that I can carry out the job entrusted to me by the people,” Mr Abe, 65, told a news conference.
He said he had decided to step down now to avoid a political vacuum as the country copes with its coronavirus outbreak.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart that despite all of the support from the Japanese people, I am leaving the post with one full year left in my term and in the midst of various policies and coronavirus,” Mr Abe said.
Speculation has been growing about the Prime Minister’s health since he made several visits to a Tokyo hospital in the space of one week.
Earlier, Mr Abe told Liberal Democratic Party executives that he was resigning, party secretary general for the Upper House of the Parliament Hiroshige Seko said.
Mr Seko said Abe said he decided to resign in order not to cause trouble.
Mr Abe told his party colleagues that his chronic intestinal disease, ulcerative colitis, had recurred and was at risk of worsening.
Mr Abe said he would not comment on his potential successor, but said the next premier should continue to work on fighting the coronavirus.
He said he believed his health would hold up until a successor was chosen.
It was not immediately clear how long it would take for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to elect a new leader, and therefore prime minister, although the process could take weeks.
Health issues cut short first stint in office
The grandson of former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi and son of former foreign minister Shintaro Abe, the Japanese leader has served in the Parliament since 1993.
Mr Abe, who is ending his second stint as Prime Minister, abruptly ended his first tenure in 2007 when he resigned due to the intestinal disease.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe struck up strong ties with US President Donald Trump.(AP: Evan Vucci)
He returned to the leadership in 2012 vowing to revitalise the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms and has gone on to become the country’s longest-serving leader.
The Prime Minister said his health problem was under control until earlier this year but was found to have relapsed in June when he had an annual check-up.
Mr Abe said he was now on a new treatment that requires IV injections. While there is some improvement, there is no guarantee it will cure his condition and so he decided to step down after treatment on Monday.
Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and sometimes polyps in the bowels. People with the condition can have a normal life expectancy but serious cases can involve life-threatening complications.
After his recent hospital visits were reported, top officials from Mr Abe’s Cabinet and the ruling party said the Prime Minister was overworked and badly needed rest.
On Monday, Mr Abe became 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.
Mr Abe could have served one more year in office before being forced to step down as the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party due to term limits.
Leader hampered by handling of pandemic
Shinzo Abe visits Darwin in 2018 with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.(Reuters: Rick Rycroft)
In a country once known for its short-tenured prime ministers, Mr Abe’s departure would mark the end of an unusual era of stability that saw the Japanese leader strike up strong ties with President Donald Trump even as Mr Abe’s ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China.
While he pulled Japan out of recession, the economy has been battered anew by the coronavirus pandemic and his unpopular measures sent sent his support ratings plummeting before his health issues.
The Prime Minister’s departure also leaves him unable to fulfill a long-cherished goal of his grandfather to formally rewrite the US-drafted pacifist constitution due to the lack of public support.
Mr Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters see the US-drafted constitution as a humiliating legacy of Japans WWII defeat.
At his press conference, Mr Abe said whoever succeeded him was likely to tackle the issue of reforming the pacifist constitution.
Mr Abe was also unable to achieve his goal of settling several unfinished wartime legacies, including normalizing ties with North Korea, settling island disputes and sign a peace treaty with Russia.
Morrison pays tribute to Japanese leader
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Mr Abe was a “true friend” to Australia and wished him good health.
“His leadership, wisdom, generosity and vision have championed the cause of peace, freedom and prosperity in our region and the world more broadly,” Mr Morrison wrote on Twitter.
“This took great strength and nobility.
“I will miss him greatly in the role of PM as a friend and mentor.
“We thank him for his special leadership and his service to Australia.”
South Korea said Mr Abe’s sudden resignation came as a regret as he has played an important role for bilateral relations.
Presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok said South Korea would continue cooperation with Japan’s new leader and Cabinet to further improve ties between the two countries,
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