THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
August 29, 2020 at 13:51 JST
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears drawn as he returns to his home in Tokyo after announcing his intention to step down. (Hiroki Endo)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn't even confide in his closest ally, Finance Minister Taro Aso, about his intention to resign until the very last moment.
Aso dined Aug. 27 with executives of his faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and remarked that Abe, after two recent visits to a Tokyo hospital, seemed in better physical shape and would not step down anytime soon.
So Aso was among the first to be caught off-guard when Abe asked him to remain behind on the morning of Aug. 28 after a Cabinet meeting.
According to sources, that was when Abe first informed Aso of his intention to resign. Aso tried to convince Abe to change his mind, but the prime minister stood firm.
At a news conference later that day, Abe explained he decided on Aug. 24 to step down after undergoing a second medical checkup at Keio University Hospital for chronic bowel disease.
By not having confided in anyone, the shock waves among high-ranking government officials and executives of the LDP were even more palpable.
Speculation had raged in political circles since early August about the state of Abe's health.
On Aug. 17, he visited Keio University Hospital for a medical checkup that lasted more than seven hours. The Aug. 24 visit was a follow-up check.
Because Abe offered no explanation about the results of the checkups, LDP executives speculated that Abe’s chronic ulcerative colitis had resurfaced.
That illness was the primary reason Abe stepped down as prime minister in 2007 after about a year in office.
High-ranking associates in the prime minister’s office did everything possible to downplay concerns about Abe’s health.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeatedly stated at his daily news conferences that he met with Abe on a daily basis and had noticed no deterioration in his health.
Others said that Abe's voice had appeared to regain its former vigor.
But insiders knew something was up.
According to government sources, while Abe often had a box meal for dinner at his office with aides, he recently went straight home without eating.
Some raised concerns about Abe’s lack of appetite and apparent weight loss.
Abe explained at the Aug. 28 news conference that his ulcerative colitis had resurfaced, which was the same reason for his resignation during his first stint as prime minister. Abe also tried to use his news conference to dispel criticism he was once again throwing up his hands and abandoning his post.
Before announcing his intention to resign, Abe came up with a new policy package of measures to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic and a new national security policy direction to deal with threats from North Korea.
That explanation was intended to give the impression that he was stepping down after establishing a policy course to deal with some of the most pressing issues facing the nation.
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