Tokyo (CNN) Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in history, has resigned for health reasons.
“Even though my term is a year away and there are challenges ahead, I have decided to step down as prime minister,” Abe said at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday, adding that ‘he would like to apologize to the Japanese people for not being able. to perform their duties during the coronavirus pandemic.
Abe suffers from colitis, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease, which was also a factor in his sudden resignation as prime minister in 2007, ending his first term after just over a year in office. On Monday morning, Abe went to Keio University Hospital in Tokyo for what was his second hospital visit in a week.
“For almost eight years I have been monitoring my chronic disease, however, this year in June I had a regular check-up and there was a sign of the disease,” he added. “I decided that I should not have continued my work as Prime Minister,” said Abe. “I need to fight the disease and I need to be treated.”
The markets reacted negatively to the announcement.
Japan’s Nikkei benchmark closed 1.4% on Friday after the news broke. It first fell by more than 2% before cutting losses. The Japanese yen, a traditional safe haven, rose 0.3% against the US dollar.
Following his previous resignation in 2007, Abe was re-elected in 2012. Since then, he has been the dominant force in Japanese politics, winning a crushing third term in 2017 and a fourth in 2019, despite multiple scandals and waning popularity.
Under Abe, his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has also enjoyed great success, benefiting from the split from longtime rival the Democratic Party, which split in two in 2017. Abe leaves the LDP in his hands from both camps. chambers of parliament, with a large majority in the House of Representatives.
This success should guarantee Abe a successor to the LDP.
Japan is not a presidential system, but the country’s leader is chosen by parliamentarians, so whoever the next LDP leader is should have an easy path to becoming prime minister. Abe has said he will remain in office until a successor is chosen.
When Abe was elected to a second term in 2012, Japan was in the economic slump after decades of stagnation.
He quickly launched a grand experiment known as “Abenomics,” which included three so-called arrows – massive monetary stimulus, increased public spending, and structural reforms – which his allies credited with reviving the country’s economy. countries and build consumer and consumer confidence. Investors.
“Japan is no longer the Japan of the past,” Abe said in January 2020.
“We have managed to break through the ‘wall of resignations’ completely.”
But any success of Abenomics has largely been about preventing a continued decline rather than causing a major boom, and the world’s third-largest economy has remained vulnerable throughout his tenure. Japan has plunged further into recession as the coronavirus struck this year.
A major factor that haunted Abe during his tenure was the rapid aging of the country’s population.
More than a third of the Japanese population is over 65, and the country set a new low birth rate record in 2019. The country’s demographic decline means a shrinking cohort of workers is left to support a population more and more aging. need health care and pensions.
Despite this, Abe’s Japan largely avoided relaxing the country’s tight immigration controls, which could have increased the workforce. Plans to restore the country’s fiscal health failed to take into account the fact that Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio remains the highest among industrialized countries.
Abe raised the need for work-style reforms, calling women the country’s “most underutilized resource” and pledging to improve gender representation and fill labor force gaps with gender equality. “Feminization”. Critics say Abe has failed to close the gender gap in the country or address the issues that prevent women from becoming more involved in the economy.
Mixed results on diplomacy
On the diplomatic front, Abe’s results are also mixed. He cultivated close ties with Washington – Tokyo’s traditional ally – and attempted to build a personal relationship with US President Donald Trump, traveling to New York to meet with him while Barack Obama was still in office.
At the “unofficial” meeting, Trump’s first with a world leader, Abe praised the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to “build trust” with the new president. He firmly supported Trump’s initial hard line on North Korea, which matched Abe’s hawkish tendencies. His ability to cultivate personal ties with Trump is often seen as one of the main reasons Japan was able to avoid a trade war with the United States.
But as Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang pointed to diplomacy, with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic highs with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Abe appeared to be left in the cold, scrambling for meeting Kim. .
The legacy of World War II, in which the Imperial Japanese Army invaded closer neighbors and committed war crimes and atrocities, has long poisoned relations in East Asia, with suspicion that Japan remained strong in China and Korea. .
Many in the region – as well as some in Japan – were hostile to Abe’s desire to rewrite the country’s post-war pacifist constitution to give Tokyo more leeway to build the Japanese army and engage in operations. abroad.
At the start of his second term, Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.
triggering a storm of criticism and condemnation among neighboring countries. The Yasukuni Shrine is considered by China and the Koreas to be a symbol of Japan’s imperial military past.
During his tenure, a slow dispute over the sovereignty of the East China Sea islands – called Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China – threatened to simmer, though Abe also held a historic phone call with the Chinese leader. Xi Jinping in 2018, a step forward in relations between the two nations.
However, relations with a traditional ally have been less healthy, with a major diplomatic row between Japan and South Korea last year. This dispute, in which trade and military intelligence agreements were eliminated, was in part inspired by the legacy of World War II.
Olympic successes and setbacks
One of Abe’s main domestic achievements has been securing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an achievement that was ultimately undone by the coronavirus, which forced the competition to be postponed until 2021.
The initial reluctance to postpone the Games was in part attributed to Japan’s poor response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the country in early 2020 and continues to cause serious problems, with large parts of the elderly population particularly at risk.
Abe’s treatment of the abdication of Emperor Akihito, the first Japanese monarch to resign in two centuries, has been more successful. He was replaced by his son, Emperor Naruhito, in October 2019, beginning the Reiwa era.
“Like the plum blossoms that bloom proudly in the spring after the cold winter, we want the Japanese to bloom like single flowers with the (promise of) the future. With such longing for Japan, we have decided to ‘ Reiwa ‘, “Ha Abe said announcing the new era.
Abe was born on September 21, 1954 in Tokyo into an important political family.
His grandfather and great uncle were both prime minister and his father was a former general secretary of the PLD.
He studied politics at Seiki University in Tokyo and the University of Southern California, but first entered the business world, taking a position with Kobe Steel in 1979.
Three years later, however, he became assistant to the foreign minister, and in 1993 Abe was first elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 38. He was re-elected seven times and held several ministerial positions in the 2000s.
In 2003, Abe became general secretary of the LDP and four years later party chairman and prime minister of Japan.
His first term was marked by controversy and deteriorating health, and he resigned as party leader and prime minister in 2007, eventually returning to both posts in 2012.
Abe married Akie Abe, née Matsuzaki, in 1987.
The couple have no children. As first lady, Akie Abe was heavily involved in politics, sometimes attracting scandals th