Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving Japanese prime minister in history, will resign due to health reasons, according to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, citing sources close to Abe.
Speaking to reporters, Hiroshige Seko, a senior executive with Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the prime minister had expressed his intention to resign to party officials. A government aide told CNN that they had also been informed of Abe’s intentions to stand down.
Abe had been expected to hold a press conference later on Friday to update on the coronavirus situation in Japan.
Markets reacted negatively to the impending 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 save haven currency, rose 0.3% against the US dollar.
On Monday morning, Abe visited Keio University Hospital in Tokyo for what was his second hospital visit in a week. Abe suffers from colitis, a non-curable 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.
He was reelected in 2012. Since then he has been the dominant force in Japanese politics, winning a landslide third term in 2017 and a fourth in 2019, despite multiple scandals and plummeting popularity.
Under Abe, his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has also seen major success, benefiting from the fracturing of its long-term rival Democratic Party, which split in two in 2017. Abe leaves the LDP in control of both houses of parliament, with a large majority in the lower House of Representatives.
That success should guarantee an LDP successor to Abe. Japan is not a presidential system, instead the country’s leader is chosen by parliamentarians, so the next LDP leader, whoever that is, should have an easy path to becoming prime minister.
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