Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation, Wednesday, over his failure to win backing from politicians for an extension to a Japanese naval mission providing refueling support to US-led operations in Afghanistan.
Since nearly the beginning of the US-led war in Afghanistan, Japan has participated by offering refueling assistance in the Indian Ocean as well as other logistical support. In a March 2007 report by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government laid out the nation's accomplishments in Afghanistan.
Abe had even staked his job on the need to extend the mandate for the mission, which polls show is unpopular with voters.
During recent talks at the regional Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, US President George W. Bush had told Abe that Japanese tanker ships had an "absolutely essential" role in refueling coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean.
"I have no intention of clinging to my duties" as prime minister if the mission is not extended beyond the November 1 legal deadline, Abe had said in a press conference in Sydney, where he attended an annual summit of top leaders from the 21 member economies of the APEC forum.
Abe's announcement comes after months of resisting strong calls for his resignation, not only from the opposition but also from the public, after his coalition's devastating electoral drubbing in late July.
While some observers claim that Abe is seeking to enlist support - or at least understanding - from the public as well as the opposition camp on his policy of continuing support of US-led operations in Afghanistan, others say his gamble will backfire, as it has given the opposition camp a new burst of energy.
"I have decided to step down from the prime minister's position," Abe said in a news conference in Tokyo. "In the present situation, it is difficult to push ahead with effective policies that win the support and trust of the public."
Abe has seen his approval ratings plummet in recent months to just 30 percent, said.
"I have decided that we need a change in this situation," he said.
"Japan needs a new leader to fight against terrorism," the Japanese prime minister said. "The people need a leader whom they can support and trust."
Abe's announcement comes after less than a year in office during which his government has been hit by a string of scandals and a recent humbling election defeat.
In July, his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered an election drubbing to the upper house of parliament.
Abe has cited that defeat as a leading reason behind his decision to quit.
The Japanese prime minister had brought in party veterans to take up key positions in his cabinet in a move aimed to gain public confidence. However, just one week later, his new farm minister resigned over financial wrongdoing.
Abe, Japan's first prime minister born after World War II and the nationâ€™s youngest person to assume the office, took oath last year with pledges to end legacies of defeat, boost Japan's global security profile and rewrite the US-imposed pacifist constitution.
But his authority has been undermined following a raft of scandals, including massive mismanagement of the pension system, a sensitive issue in a rapidly aging country.
Moreover, a resurgent opposition was making it impossible for Abe to implement his ambitious reform agenda.
"I have made my utmost efforts with my belief that we should not stop reforms. But unfortunately, the party cannot hold talks with the opposition party because I am the Prime Minister," Abe said.
Abe has not announced a date for leaving office, but said he had instructed LDP leaders to immediately begin looking for a replacement.
Former foreign minister Taro Aso is considered by political observers to be a front-runner for the post.
Meanwhile, Japanese stocks and the yen slipped following news of Abe's resignation. Analysts said that the yen and Japanese stocks would remain under selling pressure until Abe's successor is announced.