Japan’s longest-serving prime minister Shinzo Abe has announced his resignation. Speaking to a press conference this morning, Abe said: “Even though there is one year to go in my tenure and there are challenges to be met, I have decided to stand down as prime minister.” He cited reasons of health: Abe has suffered from colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, for many years. “For almost eight years I controlled my chronic disease, however, this year in June I had a regular check-up and there was a sign of the disease”, he said. “I made a judgement that I should not continue my job as prime minister… I need to fight the disease and need to be treated.”
Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been confronted with many challenges in recent years. As well as the Covid-19 pandemic, Japan has been hit with extreme economic difficulties and the disappointment of the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which the country has spent billions of dollars on.
In 2016, Abe and then-president Barack Obama made history by visiting Pearl Harbour together. At the time, Abe said he was sending “a message of reconciliation between Japan and the US”.
More recently, Abe entertained President Donald Trump with sumo wrestlers and burgers during a presidential trip to discuss trade with Japan in 2019. In the same year, Shinzo Abe met with His Holiness Pope Francis. During the visit, Abe presented Pope Francis with a digital camera and a rosary.
Under 0.5% of the Japanese population identifies as Catholic, but Abe’s wife Aki Abe was educated at a Roman Catholic private school.
It is thought that Shinzo Abe will not stand down with immediate effect, but that he will wait for his successor to be named. The LDP will be required to vote for a new leader. One of the five possible candidates is the Catholic Minister of Finance Taro Aso, 79, who also currently holds the role of deputy prime minister. Aso is the most likely contender for temporary leadership.
Abe hopes to continue on as a lawmaker once he is back to good health, reports CNN.