Ailing Abe may miss Cabinet’s last meeting

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 53rd birthday arrived Friday with little to celebrate — he has been hospitalized for nine days, with no word on how soon he will be discharged, and his resignation as prime minister is scheduled for Tuesday in the Diet.

What a contrast from a year ago, when Abe was celebrating possibly his best birthday ever. One day before he turned 52, he was elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party and was about to become prime minister, fulfilling his lifetime dream of following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano told the Cabinet Friday that it is not certain whether Abe will even be able to attend its final meeting Tuesday, when his ministers are all scheduled to resign en masse, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura revealed.

Machimura quoted Yosano as saying that whether Abe will be able to leave the hospital in time for the last Cabinet meeting will be entirely up to his doctors.

Abe suddenly announced his intention to step down from his post on Sept. 12 and was hospitalized the following day at Keio University Hospital for what was diagnosed as fatigue and a functional disorder of the stomach and intestines.

Yosano and some senior LDP lawmakers said Abe’s poor health was the main reason why he resigned.

The doctors told a news conference on Sept. 13 that Abe would be hospitalized for three to four days, but he remains there eight days later, sparking speculation that he may be trying to hide from the public.

Abe’s abrupt announcement, in which he said he was stepping down to break the political gridlock in the Diet, has sparked mounting criticism from the public that he acted far too irresponsibly and immaturely as prime minister, particularly because the announcement came just two days after he opened the 62-day extraordinary Diet session with a policy speech in which he staked his job on extending the mission.

Hospital stays are often used by politicians to hide from the public when they get embroiled in scandals.

Despite Abe’s extended absence, Yosano has argued that the government does not need to appoint an acting prime minister, saying Abe is mentally sound and can make proper judgments if called on.