Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, says he would resign to undergo treatment for a chronic illness, ending his run as the country’s longest serving premier.
He’s dealing with ulcerative colitis, a chronic digestive condition that also forced him to step down as prime minister in 2007.
Addressing a news conference Friday morning, Abe said he would stay on until party leaders hold an internal vote to pick a successor, and then he would like to remain a lawmaker after handing over power.
He said he had decided to step down now to avoid a political vacuum as the country copes with its novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19 outbreak.
“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. I made a judgement that I should not continue my job as prime minister,” the 65-year-old said.
“I have decided that I will step down as prime minister, with the belief that I cannot continue being prime minister if I do not have the confidence that I can carry out the job entrusted to me by the people.
“I am not confident of responding to the trust of the people while I am dealing with my illness and treatment and my health is not good. I need to fight the disease and need to be treated.
“I apologise from the bottom of my heart that despite all of the support from the Japanese people, I am leaving the post with one full year left in my term and in the midst of various policies and coronavirus.”
Markets reacted negatively to the announcement. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index closed down 1.4% Friday after the news broke. It initially tumbled more than 2% before paring losses. The Japanese yen, a traditional safe currency haven, rose 0.3% against the US dollar.
The resignation will trigger a leadership race in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the winner must be formally elected in parliament. The new party leader will hold the post for the rest of Abe’s term.