• Japan’s Nikkei-225 stock index dropped 1.41% on Friday
  • Abe led Japan out of a long period of deflation and improved relations with China.
  • Abe has been criticized for failing to control the COVID-19 pandemic

Shinzo Abe, 65, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, said on Friday he will resign over health issues.

Abe said he will undergo treatment for ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that also led him to stepping down as the country’s leader in 2007.

“I am not confident of responding to the trust of the people while I am dealing with my illness and treatment and my health is not good,” Abe said. “I want to say that I never exploited my position for my own gain.”

Abe added: “I would like to sincerely apologize to the people of Japan for leaving my post with one year left in my term of office, and amid the coronavirus woes, while various policies are still in the process of being implemented.”

But the premier said he will remain in office until senior officials of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, can vote on a successor. Japan is not expected to hold a general election until October 2021.

Japan’s Nikkei-225 stock index dropped 1.41% on Friday.

All told, Abe has served as Japan’s prime minister four times, spanning the years 2006 to 2020. Among other achievements, Abe led Japan out of a long period of deflation and improved relations with China. He also bolstered the domestic economy with a policy that was eventually dubbed ‘Abenomics’ – a program of aggressive monetary easing and regulatory reform.

In addition, Abe has steadily increased Japan’s defense budget and wanted to change the country’s post-war tradition of pacifism by rewriting parts of the constitution.

Abe generally had warm relations with U.S. President Donald Trump, Kyodo News reported.

However, they tussled over such matters as beef tariffs, the cost of housing U.S. troops in Japan and other trade matters. Nonetheless, Abe signed a trade pact with Trump that called for Japan to accelerate its purchases of American military equipment.

But Abe has been criticized for failing to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, under his watch, Japan’s gross domestic product plunged by a record 27.8% in the second quarter.

Still, Abe’s decision to quit seemed to surprise some members of the LDP.

“It was an absolute surprise since it was so sudden,” said Tomomi Inada, the LDP’s deputy secretary general, according to Bloomberg. “I hadn’t expected it.”

Kathy Matsui, vice chair of Goldman Sachs Japan, told Bloomberg: “It’s highly unlikely in our view that any successor will pursue policies that are going to be vastly different from the current direction. We continue to expect any successors continue with aggressive fiscal and monetary easing.”

Likely successors to Abe include Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Finance Minister Taro Aso and Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister.

LDP has ruled Japan for 60 of the past 65 years.

Yuko Kato, Digital editor, BBC News Japan, wrote that: “As the longest-serving Japanese prime minister, he leaves behind a legacy of stability and a strong centralized power base that allowed forceful stimulus policies to revive the economy. He also improved relations with the U.S. by courting President Donald Trump, often on the golf course.”

Kato added: “Yet [Abe’s] government was also mired in scandal, including talk of favoritism and willful destruction of public records. When the pandemic struck, his responses were often criticized as being slow, ineffective, and out of touch. And perhaps importantly for Mr. Abe, his cherished – and highly controversial – wish to revise Japan's pacifist constitution under his watch, has come to naught, at least for now.”

Global leaders gave Abe mixed reviews.

“[Abe] has achieved great things as [prime minister] of Japan – for his country and the world,” tweeted U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Under his stewardship the U.K.-Japan relationship has gone from strength to strength in trade, defense and our cultural links. Thank you for all your years of service and I wish you good health.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the relationship between Abe and President Vladimir Putin as “brilliant.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China "wants to continue to promote improvement and development of ties" between Tokyo and Beijing.

However, Kwong Tae-Shin, vice chairman of the Federation Of Korean Industries, a South Korean business lobby group, stated: “[South Korean] President Moon Jae-in and Abe do not have good personal relationship, which contributed to adverse bilateral ties. When a new leader takes office in Japan, he can give momentum to improving bilateral relations.”