His health concerns came as his support ratings plunged due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on the economy, on top of a stream of political scandals.
There are a slew of politicians eager to replace Abe.
Shigeru Ishiba, a 63-year-old hawkish former defense minister and Abe’s archrival, is a favorite next leader in media surveys, though he is less popular within the governing party. A low-key former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Taro Kono, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, and economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of coronavirus measures, are widely mentioned in Japanese media as potential successors.
Abe was often upstaged in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, a former governing party conservative who is seen as a potential prime minister candidate by some. But she would have to first be elected to parliament to be in the running for the top job.
The end of Abe’s scandal-laden first stint as prime minister was the beginning of six years of annual leadership change, remembered as an era of “revolving door” politics that lacked stability and long-term policies.
When he returned to office in 2012, Abe vowed to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.
Perhaps Abe’s biggest failure was his inability to fulfill a long-cherished goal of his grandfather to formally rewrite the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution. Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters see the U.S.-drafted constitution as a humiliating legacy of Japan’s World War II defeat.