TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said yesterday he intends to step down because a chronic health problem has resurfaced. He told reporters that it was “gut wrenching” to leave so many of his goals unfinished.
Abe has had ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment. 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.
He is now on a new treatment that requires IV injections, he said. While there is some improvement, there is no guarantee that it will cure his condition and so he decided to step down after treatment on Monday, he said.
“It is gut wrenching to have to leave my job before accomplishing my goals,” Abe said yesterday, mentioning his failure to resolve the issue of Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea and a territorial dispute with Russia.
He said his health problem was under control until earlier this year but was found to have relapsed in June when he had an annual checkup.
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 United States (US) President Donald Trump even as 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 Abe has failed to achieve his cherished goal of formally rewriting the US-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 focussed on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military and bigger role in international affairs.
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 a year later because of his health.