Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he will resign due to a flare-up of his chronic intestinal disease, ending his nearly eight-year stint as Japan's longest-serving leader, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with many of his political ambitions unrealized.
Abe, who just four days ago set a record of staying in power for 2,799 consecutive days, will leave office without achieving his long-cherished goal of amending Japan's pacifist Constitution or seeing the Tokyo Olympics due to be staged next summer while still the country's leader.
"As I am no longer in a condition to respond confidently to the mandate of the people, I have decided I should not stay in the prime minister's post," the 65-year-old said at a nationally televised press conference.
The abrupt announcement, already setting off a contest for his successor, came amid falling public support for his Cabinet as many perceived his government was dealing poorly with issues stemming from the spread of the virus.
The Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Abe, is considering holding a leadership election on Sept. 15 or around that day, according to senior party lawmakers.
Abe said he had been able to keep the illness, ulcerative colitis, which led to his first resignation as premier in 2007, under control for most of his tenure, but he started to feel fatigue from mid-July and was diagnosed with a relapse earlier this month.
Abe said he thought now was the right time to step down from the top job as he believes the number of new cases of the novel coronavirus has been on a downtrend and he has been able to compile new measures to fight the pandemic, including plans to secure enough vaccines for all residents and expand testing capacity to 200,000 a day.
"I apologize to the people from the bottom of my heart for having to leave the job amid the coronavirus pandemic while many policies are still halfway toward realization," he said.
Abe said he will remain in office until his successor is chosen by the ruling party and he plans to continue his political career, running in the next general election. (Kyodo)