Japan’s longest-serving prime minister abruptly announced his resignation on Friday, citing a recurrence of a chronic health issue, as The New York Times reported.
Shinzo Abe, who notably formed a personal relationship with President Donald Trump over the past several years, first served as prime minister between 2006 and 2007. He reclaimed the position in 2012, going on to achieve the longest tenure in the nation’s history.
A history of medical ups and downs
A recent flareup in Abe’s ulcerative colitis — the same incurable bowel disease that forced an early end of his initial term more than a decade ago — is being blamed for his decision to step down.
The surprising announcement came just four days after Abe, who is 65, set the record for most days served as Japan’s prime minister. The past eight years have been marked by economic prosperity and high levels of support for his government’s management of major issues impacting the nation.
As with leaders around the world, however, the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted his popularity in recent months.
He further acknowledged that he failed to achieve certain goals he set for himself, including the finalization of a peace deal with Russia, improving relations with China and South Korea, and securing the return of Japanese women kidnapped by North Korea decades ago.
Abe’s physical health took a turn for the worse in July, according to the Japan Times.
“I intend to resign as prime minister”
Following two hospital visits in quick succession, public concern began to grow. Doctors reportedly diagnosed him with a recurrence of ulcerative colitis earlier this month.
The disease is manageable with appropriate medical treatment, and the prime minister explained in his resignation announcement that he is prepared to begin a regimen involving a new drug showing promise in keeping its symptoms under control.
“With the illness and treatment, and with my strength not the best, I can’t allow myself to risk making incorrect political decisions, thus failing to produce results,” he declared, according to the Japan Times. “I intend to resign as prime minister.”
Abe will not be leaving the political realm altogether, though, and confirmed his intention to return to a lower parliamentary house where he can continue supporting the conservative-leaning Liberal Democratic Party. Several candidates are reportedly being considered to replace him.
Pundits note the potential impact Abe’s departure could have on U.S.–Japan relations. Hopefully, his successor will be interested in maintaining and building on his success.