Hospital visits cloud future for Japan's longest-serving PM amid recession
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday became the country's longest-serving leader in terms of consecutive days in office. However, instead of a celebration, Abe spent the morning at a hospital in Tokyo, fanning speculation about whether he can stay on as leader of the world's third largest economy.
Monday marked 2,799 uninterrupted days as prime minister for Abe since returning to leadership in late 2012 for a second stint, surpassing the mark set by Eisaku Sato, his great uncle, who served for 2,798 days from 1964 to 1972.
With his two stints in office combined, Abe, who turns 66 next month, became Japan's longest-serving prime minister last November. But as his first term ended abruptly 13 years ago due to health problems, concerns were raised after Abe on Monday visited a hospital for the second week in a row.
"Today, I heard the results of the tests in detail, and took some additional examinations," Abe told reporters at his official residence, after returning from Keio University Hospital in Tokyo.
Last week, he spent more than seven hours at the same hospital for what officials said was a "regular checkup", but a widely cited report by the weekly magazine Flash said that he had vomited blood at his office.
"I will pay utmost attention to my health and will do my best going forward," Abe said, adding that he would offer a fuller explanation of his health at a later date.
Earlier in the day, Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga also sought to quell speculation about Abe's health.
"I see him every day, but I haven't noticed anything strange about him," Suga told a regular briefing.
However, Suga's assurance didn't stop unidentified government sources, including some from Abe's ruling bloc, from telling local media that Abe's condition was more of a serious nature and that he may step down early rather than wait for the end of his term in September next year.
In a TV program this month, Akira Amari, the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's tax panel said Abe needs to take rest.
"We need to force him to get rest, even if just for a few days," Amari said.
Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, 79, who doubles as finance minister and is a possible successor to Abe, said it was not surprising for Abe to be in "rough shape" after working for so long.
According to the government, Abe's health was affected by his work to contain the coronavirus outbreak but a recent poll showed his Cabinet's approval ratings had plunged to its lowest levels over his handling of the virus and its impact on the economy.
A Kyodo News Agency survey over the weekend said support for the Abe Cabinet had slipped from 38.8 percent a month ago to 36 percent, the second-lowest since he took office in 2012.
"If you look at Abe's career, his ambition of boosting the domestic economy, amending the nation's pacifist Constitution, the territorial disputes with Russia, all of them have been left unresolved," said Yuzo Tanaka, a professor of economics at Ryukoku University in Kyoto.
"It's really sad for someone who has reigned for so long," Tanaka added.