Abe resigns for health reasons, ending era of political stability


Ending weeks of speculation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday announced he was stepping down for health reasons a second time, leaving Tokyo to scramble to make the transition to the post-Abe era.

Attention has now shifted to who will replace Abe and when. The nation’s political nerve center had recently questioned whether Abe would step down due to his chronic ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease.

Abe has said he will remain prime minister until his successor is chosen. His Liberal Democratic Party is expected to hold a presidential election by the end of September, with Diet MPs and three representatives from each of the 47 locals voting, but no grassroots party members.

With Abe’s conservative PLD and Komeito holding a strong majority in the more powerful lower house, whoever becomes the next PLD president will almost certainly become prime minister.

Abe’s resignation will end his second term as Prime Minister, a period of political stability that lasted almost eight years and saw him forge a close personal relationship with US President Donald Trump, of whom few others. world leaders have benefited. But it also leaves behind unfinished business and a controversial legacy in East Asia.

Abe had just taken over as the country’s longest-running uninterrupted prime minister. But his health came under scrutiny after an examination at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo on August 17. He then returned for a follow-up exam on Monday, his 2,799th day in office during his current term and the day Abe said he made the decision to step down. Counting his first term, he passed Taro Katsura to become the longest-serving prime minister last year.

At an evening press conference, Abe revealed that his chronic ulcerative colitis, which led to his resignation during his first term, had relapsed in early August. He had been feeling bad since mid-July.

Even if he has started taking new drugs, constant treatment will be needed, Abe said.

“With the disease and the treatment, and with my strength which is not the best, I cannot afford to risk making incorrect political decisions, thus not producing results,” said Abe. “I intend to resign my post as Prime Minister.”

The PM, however, said he would continue his political career as a lawmaker, denying he would step down from politics.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s resignation will end his second term as Prime Minister, a period of political stability that has lasted nearly eight years. | REUTERS

Abe spoke without a teleprompter – which he typically uses at press conferences – saying he was working on his speech until the last minute.

Sometimes the tone of his voice seemed a little relaxed. But at one point, he paused for a few seconds to pull himself together, appearing to tear himself apart.

Journalists, lawmakers, cabinet ministers and staff in the prime minister’s office are all in close daily communication, but none of them seemed to know that Abe’s resignation was coming.

When the first report of his intention to resign emerged shortly after 2 p.m., reporters from the prime minister’s office rushed to a TV screen set up in a corner booth near the entrance. Film crews rushed to set up their equipment and reporters frantically called sources to confirm the news.

“I learned of his resignation in a report and I am surprised,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the minister in charge of the Olympic Games.

The developments followed reports that his health began to decline in July and deteriorated earlier this month. This has fueled fears within his party that he may not be able to continue, sparking speculation about possible successors.

Abe’s first term as Prime Minister ended in 2007 after only a year due to the same bowel disease.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has revealed that his chronic ulcerative colitis, which led to his resignation during his first term, had relapsed in early August.  |  AFP-JIJI
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has revealed that his chronic ulcerative colitis, which led to his resignation during his first term, had relapsed in early August. | AFP-JIJI

In the political center of Nagatacho, the race to find his replacement is accelerating.

Before the announcement of Abe’s resignation on Friday, PLD General Secretary Toshihiro Nikai told TBS TV that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was a strong candidate to succeed Abe.

“He has great abilities,” Nikai said. “He has the capacity to endure at the post. “

But Nikai also mentioned LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida and former LDP secretary general Shigeru Ishiba as possible candidates.

In a Kyodo poll over the weekend, 23.3% of those polled said Ishiba should be the next prime minister, with 11% saying Abe should stay, 8.4% recommending the minister of the Environment Shinjiro Koizumi, 7.9% supporting Defense Minister Taro Kono and 2.8% behind Kishida. .

A champion of decentralization and regional revitalization, Ishiba enjoys good support in many chapters of the party, but struggles to generate enough support in the ranks of the PLD Diet.

“If I have the support of 20 people (necessary to run for the presidency of the party), I will do what it takes. I will decide in the not-so-distant future, ”Ishiba said.

Suga, the top government spokesman whose relationship with Abe has reportedly cooled over the past year, is also a potential successor despite his denials of interest. Suga is close to Nikai, whose support can be essential in determining Abe’s successor.

Kishida has long been seen as a potential prime minister and enjoys wide party support. But he’s not that popular with the public or sections of the LDP and might struggle to get enough votes to win.

“I would like to do my best for the country and for the people,” Kishida told reporters on Friday.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he would hold talks with members of his faction. Koizumi, the son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, would not have the necessary support from the party.

Asked at his press conference about future candidates, including Ishiba, Kishida and Suga, Abe said those whose names had been mentioned so far were all encouraging prospects. But he refused to approve anyone. He added, however, that a clear vision to deal with the coronavirus and teamwork will be important for his successor.

Even though Abe cited health concerns, what mattered to him was to cement his legacy as the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, said Mieko Nakabayashi, professor of political science at Waseda University in Tokyo. .

“I think Japan is going to face very difficult challenges,” she said, citing measures against coronaviruses, the fragile economy and strained security relations with Japan’s neighbors. “There are no easy-to-talk policies. So I wonder if Abe thought it was time to quit. “

Abe spoke without a teleprompter, claiming he was working on his speech until the last minute.  |  PA
Abe spoke without a teleprompter, claiming he was working on his speech until the last minute. | PA

Diplomatically, Abe leaves a little over two months before the US presidential election. Tetsuo Kotani, professor of diplomacy at Meikai University, said Abe’s warm personal relationship with Trump that began after the 2016 US presidential election has become less important over time.

“The personal relationship between Abe and Trump could not prevent difficult negotiations on trade or on host nation’s support of Japan for US troops later this year,” said Kotani, who is also a senior researcher at the Japanese Institute of International Affairs.

Key to Abe’s ability to deal with Trump, he added, was the fact that Abe was able to stay in office for a long time, unlike in the past, when prime ministers often resigned after only a few years, if not a an, at the office. This revolving door effect has often frustrated US administrations, which have been forced to constantly face new leaders.

“The bigger question is whether Abe’s successor can stay long or not. This will be the most important element for the US-Japan relationship and the alliance. “

Among the potential successors, Ishiba and Kono are well known to US policymakers dealing with Japan and the US-Japan alliance, and Kono is a Georgetown graduate. Other candidates, Kotani said, are much less known to policymakers.

In East Asia, Abe leaves behind a controversial legacy, even within his own party. Kotani said Abe’s policies towards China and South Korea were realistic, but angered some LDP conservatives who wanted tougher measures.

“The Chinese and South Koreans might expect a successor to Abe to offer a better chance of improving relations. However, I think Abe’s successor won’t have so many options. They might even need tougher responses from the two countries due to the frustration of the LDP conservatives with Abe’s approach.

Tobias Harris, senior vice president of Teneo, a Washington-based consulting firm and author of “The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan,” said he expects the biggest foreign policy challenge the next prime minister is Japan’s relations with China and the South. Korea.

“The pressure is overwhelmingly for a harder line on China and there is little public pressure to repair relations with South Korea,” Harris said.

At his press conference, Abe spoke of his failure to achieve a constitutional review and a peace treaty with Russia. But he expressed particular sadness at not being able to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, mainly in the 1960s to 1980s. Abe was one of the early supporters of the cause, at one point. a time when many politicians in his own party ignored or downplayed the issue.

“I feel extreme pain that I cannot resolve the kidnapping issue in North Korea,” he said.

Kyodo information added

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