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28 August 2020 14:40

Sinn Féin Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has confirmed his resignation due to his deteriorating health, sparking a fall in Tokyo stock prices and a rise in the yen. Abe, who is Japan's longest serving prime minister, has suffered from the disease ulcerative colitis for a number of years. The conservative prime minister was elected to a second term in December 2012, promising a mix of his trademark easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and reforms. On Monday Abe surpassed the record for the country's longest serving prime minister, which was set by his great uncle Eisaku Sato 50 years ago. "Even though there is one year to go in my tenure and there are challenges to be met, I have decided to stand down as prime minister," said Abe at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday, adding that he would like to apologize to the people of Japan for being unable to fulfill his duties during the coronavirus pandemic.

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. "I made a judgment that I should not continue my job as prime minister" said Abe. 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. A major factor that has dogged Abe during his time in office was the country's rapidly aging population. Despite this, Abe's Japan largely avoided relaxing the country's tight controls on immigration, which could have boosted the workforce. Abe touted the need for workstyle reforms, calling women the country's "most underutilized resource" and vowing to improve gender representation and closing gaps in the workforce with "womenomics." Critics say Abe did not manage to address the country's gender gap or resolve issues that prevent women from greater participation in the economy He cultivated strong ties with Washington--Tokyo's traditional ally--and attempted to build a personal relationship with United States President Donald Trump, traveling to New York to meet him while Barack Obama was still in office.

During that "unofficial" meeting, Trump's first with any world leader, Abe hailed the US-Japan alliance and said he wanted to "build trust" with the new President. His ability to cultivate personal ties with Trump are often credited as one of the biggest reasons why Japan has be able to avoid a trade war with the US. But as Washington's relationship with Pyongyang tipped towards diplomacy, with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding historic summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Abe appeared to be left out in the cold, scrambling for his own meeting with Kim The legacy of World War II, during which the Imperial Japanese army invaded multiple neighbors and committed war crimes and atrocities, has long poisoned relations in East Asia, with suspicion of Japan remaining strong in China and the Koreas. 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 allow Tokyo greater leeway to build up the Japanese military and engage in overseas operations. Early in his second term, Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, igniting a firestorm of criticism and condemnation among neighboring countries.

However, ties with a traditional ally have been less healthy, with a major diplomatic spat between Japan and South Korea last year. One of Abe's major domestic achievements was securing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a success that was ultimately undone by the coronavirus, which forced the competition to be postponed to 2021. An initial unwillingness to put the Games off was partly credited for Japan's lackluster response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the country early in 2020 and continues to cause major issues, with much of the aged population particularly at risk. On Friday, Abe said that as the host country, Japan would need to fulfill its responsibility. With such a wish for Japan, we decided upon 'Reiwa'," Abe said on announcing the new era. Both his grandfather and great uncle served as prime minister, and his father was a former secretary general of the LDP. Three years later however, he became an assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and in 1993 Abe was first elected to the House of Representatives, aged 38. In 2003, Abe became secretary general of the LDP, and four years later the party's president and prime minister of Japan. His first term was marred by controversies and worsening health, and he stepped down as party leader and prime minister in 2007, eventually returning to both positions in 2012. A number of world leaders praised Abe after he announced his resignation on Friday. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter that he "has achieved great things as PM of Japan," adding: "Thank you for all your years of service and I wish you good health." TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said on Friday that he was resigning because of ill health, thrusting his country, during a global pandemic, into a new period of political uncertainty after a record-setting tenure that provided unaccustomed stability at the top. Mr. Abe, 65, announced his decision to step down just four days after he had set a record for the longest uninterrupted run as Japanese leader — nearly eight years — but before he had achieved some of his most cherished ambitions. Since taking over at the end of 2012 as the sixth prime minister in five years, he had overseen Japan's recovery from a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, restored the country to a semblance of economic health, and curried favor with an unpredictable American president, Donald J. Yet despite his long hold on power — it was his second stint as prime minister, having held the post from 2006 to 2007 — Mr. Abe fell short of his ultimate goal of revising the pacifist Constitution installed by the United States after World War II. He was also unable to secure the return of contested islands claimed by both Japan and Russia so that the two countries could sign a peace treaty to officially end the war.