Japan’s PM is resigning for health reasons

Japan’s PM is resigning for health reasons

TOKYO (AP) — Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, says he’s resigning because a chronic illness has resurfaced.

Concerns about Abe’s health began this summer and grew this month when he visited a Tokyo hospital two weeks in a row for unspecified health checkups.

Abe has acknowledged having ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment.

Abe, whose term ends in September 2021, is expected to stay on until a new party leader is elected and formally approved by the parliament.

In a country once known for its short-tenured prime ministers, the departure marks the end of an unusual era of stability that saw the Japanese leader strike up strong ties with President Donald Trump even as Abe’s ultra-nationalism riled the Koreas and China.

21 PHOTOSPrime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President TrumpSee GalleryPrime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President TrumpPresident Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)FILE – In this Aug. 25, 2019, file photo, U.S President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak during a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France to announce that the U.S. and Japan have agreed in principle on a new trade agreement. On Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, officials in Japan appear wary over the prospects for a trade deal with the U.S. after President Donald Trump said he was prepared to sign a pact soon. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)U.S President Donald Trump, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands as they participate in a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)U.S President Donald Trump, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands as they participate in a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)U.S President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands as they participate in a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYU.S. President Donald Trump hosts a bilateral meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida U.S., April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAYU.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos BarriaJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump pose with their copies of a joint statement on trade after signing the document during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019.REUTERS/Jonathan ErnstU.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019.REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueU.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet with family members of people abducted by North Korea, at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan ErnstU.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Akasaka Palace, Japanese state guest house in Tokyo May 27, 2019. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via ReutersU.S. President Donald Trump meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueUp Next

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While he pulled Japan out of recession, the economy has been battered anew by the coronavirus pandemic, and Abe has failed to achieve his cherished goal to formally rewrite the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution because of poor public support.

Abe is a political blue blood who was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affiars.

Hiroshige Seko, a party secretary general for the Upper House of the parliament, confirmed that Abe told party executives he is resigning as prime minister.

Visited a Tokyo hospital for unspecified health checkups

Seko said Abe said he decided to resign in order not to cause trouble. Abe is scheduled to hold a news conference later Friday.

Concerns about Abe’s chronic health issues, simmering since earlier this summer, intensified this month when he visited a Tokyo hospital two weeks in a row for unspecified health checkups.

Abe, whose term ends in September 2021, is expected to stay on until a new party leader is elected and formally approved by the parliament.

Abe became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, at age 52, but his overly nationalistic first stint abruptly ended in disappointment a year later because of his health.

In December 2012, Abe returned to power, prioritizing economic measures over his nationalist agenda. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power, bolstering Japan’s defense role and capability and its security alliance with the U.S. He also stepped up patriotic education at schools and raised Japan’s international profile.

Abe on Monday 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.

But his second hospital visit Monday has accelerated speculation and political maneuvering toward a post-Abe regime.

Abe has acknowledged having ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment. He has not made clear if that condition is related to his recent health issues or hospital visits.

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 Abe’s Cabinet and the ruling party said Abe was overworked and badly needed rest.

His health concerns added to speculation that Abe’s days in office were numbered; his support ratings were already at their lowest levels due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on the economy, on top of a stream of political scandals.

There are a slew of politicians eager to replace Abe.

Faced public criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak

Shigeru Ishiba, a 63-year-old hawkish former defense minister and Abe’s archrival, is a favorite next leader in media surveys, though he is less popular within the ruling party. A low-key former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Taro Kono, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of coronavirus measures, are widely speculated in Japanese media as potential successors.

Abe, who repeatedly faced public criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, was often upstaged by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, a former ruling party conservative who’s seen as a potential prime minister candidate by some. But she would have to first be elected to parliament to be in the running for the top job.

The end of Abe’s scandal-laden first stint as prime minister was the beginning of six years of annual leadership change, remembered as an era of “revolving door” politics that lacked stability and long-term policies.

When he returned to office in 2012, Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.

Abe’s unpopular coronavirus measures sent his support ratings plummeting before his health issues.

Perhaps Abe’s biggest failure was his inability to fulfill a long-cherished goal of his grandfather to formally rewrite the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution. Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters see the U.S.-drafted constitution as a humiliating legacy of Japan’s WWII defeat.

He was also unable to achieve his goal of settling several unfinished wartime legacies, including normalizing ties with North Korea, settling island disputes with neighbors and signing a peace treaty with Russia.

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