Japan’s longest-serving leader has announced his intention to resign on Friday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been in office for eight consecutive years, will resign because of his worsening chronic illness.

Senior party member Hiroshige Seko said in a live broadcast on Friday that Shinzo Abe does not want to cause problems to the Japanese government due to his deteriorating health. “Abe intends to resign as his illness has worsened and he worries it will cause trouble,” announced national broadcaster NHK.

Last week, reports of Abe’s resignation emerged following his unannounced hospital visits. Speculations also grew rife after the prime minister dialed back public appearances as a new wave of COVID-19 infections surged across the country in recent weeks.

Amid the rumors, Abe’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said earlier on Friday that Abe intended to stay in office. “The prime minister himself has said he would like to work hard again from now on, and I’m seeing him every day,” he said reassuring reporters that the prime minister’s health remains unchanged.

Abe revealed in 2007 that he was suffering from the debilitating effects of a bowel disease called ulcerative colitis. With his resignation announcement today, it is unclear whether he is suffering from the effects of the same disease again or has contracted a different illness.

Abe’s resignation announcement comes four days after he nabbed the record for the longest consecutive run as leader in the history of Japan. For a country accustomed to high turnover in the top government position, it is quite a significant feat for Abe to have been able to serve as prime minister for nearly eight consecutive years.

One of Abe’s major accomplishments is the restoration of Japan’s economic health following a series of devastating earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear disasters in the country. In recent years, however, he has come under fire for being unable to revise the pacifist constitution established by postwar American occupiers and secure the return of contested Japanese islands claimed by Russia.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party will appoint an interim leader to take Abe’s place until the party can hold a leadership election. Abe’s term was supposed to expire in Sept. 2021.

Shinzo Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his intention to resign on Aug. 28, 2020. Getty/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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