Shinzo Abe said on Friday that he would be stepping down due to Health problems, Japanese local media reported, a development that will end Abe’s reign from 2012.
Rumours about Abe’s possible resignation had deepened after two recent surprise hospital visits for unspecified medical checks, but in recent days, senior government officials had suggested he would serve out the rest of remaining year in office.
Abe is no stranger to stepping down due to health related issues, as he stepped down just one year into his first term, in 2007, in a similar scenario.
He was subsequently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which he said upon return to office in 2012 was under control with the help of new medication. It is unclear whether the debilitating effects of the disease had been affecting him even then.
The resignation, if confirmed, will come despite the insistence of government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Friday morning that Abe remained in good health.
Suga had reported that he sees the Prime Minister on a daily basis, and as such, feels there is no change in his condition, assuring reporters at a regular press conference.
But the health woes appear to have piled on the pressure for Abe, who this week broke the record for the longest uninterrupted stint in office in Japanese history.
Despite the relatively contained impact of the coronavirus in Japan, Abe’s government has been heavily criticised for its approach to the crisis, including a U-turn on stimulus payments and a much-mocked decision to issue each household two cloth face masks.
Abe’s administration has also been under a lot of strain, even as his signature “Abenomics” economic policy came under increasing criticism, with the country already slumping into recession even before the coronavirus crisis hit.
Still, experts had said there was little appetite within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for Abe to depart early, especially as there is no consensus yet on his successor.
Abe’s sudden resignation has opened up
various possibilities, including that either deputy prime minister Taro Aso — who also serves as finance minister — or chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga would assume the office in a caretaker capacity.
A later election within the party would then confirm a full-time successor.
Both Aso and Suga, as well as several former and current cabinet members have been suggested as potential successors.