Japan’s Shinzo Abe returns to hospital on day he becomes country’s longest-serving prime minister

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Abe, leader of the world’s third largest economy, has now served 2,799 consecutive days as Prime Minister – surpassing the previous record set by his great-uncle Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who resigned in 1972.

The prime minister made brief comments to reporters after leaving hospital on Monday. He did not say what made him suffer, but expressed his support for “those who have supported me even in very difficult times”.

“Today I learned more about last week’s test and took an additional test. While looking after my health, I would like to do my best in my job. I will address the issue of the additional test (in the future), ”he said, without specifying which test he actually took.

Abe suffers from colitis, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease, which forced him to resign during his first sting as the country’s leader from 2006 to 2007. He became Prime Minister again in 2012, ultimately closing a revolving door on Japanese leaders .

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday’s visit followed a health check last week and found “no noticeable changes” on Abe’s part.It is unclear how severe Abe’s health problems are, but many around her have said the drugs are controlling her condition. As ruler, he is credited with reviving the country’s stagnant economy, although major issues such as massive public debt and aging populations loom large.

But last week was the first time that Abe’s health had become a topic of discussion in Japanese politics in years. He is already facing criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country and has seen voter support drop, adding to speculation that he could resign after reaching Monday’s milestone.

Abe spent more than six hours last week in a Tokyo hospital for what a source close to the prime minister called “persistent bowel disease”. The individual spoke on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak officially about Abe’s health. CNN has contacted the Prime Minister’s Office for comment.

The coronavirus crisis in Japan

While there has been no categorical comment from the government that Abe’s latest health issues could force him to resign, his handling of the pandemic and the economic crisis that followed provided an opening. to his political opponents.

Covid-19 cases have been increasing across Japan since mid-July. While government officials and doctors say the higher workload is the result of more testing, they also say the increase in the number of critically ill people is of concern in one of the fastest aging societies. in the world.

Fatigue from social distancing measures is fueling the challenge for some, and the streets of Tokyo have started to fill up during the day. More than half of the 63,219 cases identified in the country since the start of the pandemic have been recorded since July 1, but the government has said it does not plan to declare a state of emergency, as it had made during the first outbreak in Japan.

The virus has also severely damaged economic activity and disrupted much of the Prime Minister’s so-called “Abenomics” program that sought to get the country out of years of deflation. Japan reported its worst GDP drop on record last week, falling 7.8% in the second quarter from the previous quarter. This translated into an annual rate of decline of 27.8%, the worst since modern records began in 1980.

Public opinion about Abe’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the associated economic downturn has also weakened. A poll by Mainichi, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, found that 58.4% of people were unhappy with Abe’s handling of the pandemic. His approval rating dropped to 36%, the lowest since Abe took office for the second time in 2012.

Abe’s rivals and opposition parties have argued to prepare for the prospect of the prime minister’s resignation due to his handling of the virus and the deepening recession. Political analysts say Abe’s health has added another layer of uncertainty and urgency to her future.

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