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Ending weeks of speculation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday that he is stepping down for health reasons a second time, leaving Tokyo scrambling to make the transition to a post-Abe era.

Attention has now shifted to who will replace Abe and when. The nation’s political nerve center had recently been abuzz about whether Abe would resign over his chronic ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease.

Abe said he will stay on as prime minister until his successor is chosen. His Liberal Democratic Party is expected to hold a party presidential election by the end of September, with Diet lawmakers and three representatives from each of the 47 local chapters voting, but not rank-and-file party members.

Abe’s resignation will bring an end to his second tenure as prime minister, a period of political stability that lasted nearly eight years and saw him form a close personal relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump that few other world leaders enjoyed. But he also leaves behind unfinished business, and a controversial legacy, in East Asia.

Abe had just taken over the mantle as having the nation’s longest uninterrupted term as prime minister. But his health came under intense scrutiny after a checkup at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo on Aug. 17. He then returned for a follow-up exam on Monday, his 2,799th day in office during his current tenure and the day Abe said he made the decision to step aside. Counting his first tenure, he passed Taro Katsura to become the longest-serving prime minister last year.

During an evening news conference, Abe revealed that his chronic ulcerative colitis, which led to his resignation during his first term, was found to have relapsed at the beginning of August. He had been feeling ill since mid-July.

The prime minister, however, said he will continue his political career as a lawmaker, denying that he will retire from politics.

Abe’s first period as prime minister ended in 2007 after just a year due to the same bowel disease.

In the political center of Nagatacho, the race to find his replacement is accelerating.

On Friday, before news of Abe’s resignation broke, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told TBS TV that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was a strong candidate to succeed Abe.

Nikai mentioned LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba as possible contenders.

In a Kyodo survey over the weekend, 23.3 percent of respondents said Ishiba should be the next prime minister, with 11 percent saying Abe should stay on, 8.4 percent recommending Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 7.9 percent backing Defense Minister Taro Kono and 2.8 percent behind Kishida.

Suga, the top government spokesman whose relationship with Abe has reportedly cooled over the past year, is also a potential successor despite his denials of interest. Suga is close to Nikai, whose support may be key in determining Abe’s successor.

Article first published in The Japan Times on Aug. 28.

Warm up

One minute chat about Shinzo Abe.

Game

Collect words related to the prime minister, e.g., government, politics, first lady, etc.

New words

1) speculation: the forming of a theory without firm evidence, e.g. “There is speculation that Israel has a nuclear weapon.”

2) successor: a person or thing that comes after another to fill a similar role, e.g. “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is seen as a successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger when it comes to action films.”

3) tenure: the holding of an office, e.g. “Her tenure as CEO began as the pandemic started.”

Guess the headline

Abe to r_ _ _ _ _ over h_ _ _ _ _, ending era of political stability

Questions

1) Why is Shinzo Abe resigning?

2) Will the prime minister resign immediately?

3) Who was the longest-serving prime minister before Abe broke the record?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What was the biggest moment of the Shinzo Abe era?

2) What do you think about his resigning?

3) Who do you think the next prime minister will be and what do you want from them?

Reference

長きにわたり日本のトップとして走り続けてきた安倍首相の幕引きは、最近の日本の夏空を反映するかのような青天の霹靂として日本国内を駆け巡りました。在任期間中には良くも悪くも多くの出来事があり、その功罪がまとめ上げられる前の突然の辞任発表は、体調不良が原因とは言え、多くの人が驚いたことでしょう。コロナ禍中での辞任ではありますが、安倍首相に率いられたこの期間は私たちにとってどのような時間だったのでしょうか。そして次のリーダーとなる時期総理に私たちはどのようなことを期待するでしょうか。朝英語の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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