Japan’s political crisis deepened when the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion less than 24 hours after suddenly announcing his resignation.
Abe (52) was seen by a doctor on Thursday morning after feeling unwell and was admitted to Keio hospital in Tokyo later in the day. His condition is not life-threatening but his doctors said he would remain in hospital for at least three or four days.
Toshifumi Hibi, one of the doctors treating Abe, said the Japanese leader was suffering from gastrointestinal inflammation and had been placed on an intravenous drip. ”He is suffering from extreme exhaustion,” he said.
”He has lost weight. His symptoms include abdominal pain, digestion problems and lack of appetite. These symptoms can be attributed to physical exhaustion and psychological stress.”
Abe’s weight has dropped by 5kg in recent weeks and he has been taking sleeping pills, Hibi said.
His sudden admission to hospital fuelled speculation that failing health played a bigger role in Abe’s decision to step down than he was prepared to admit.
Rumours have long circulated that he suffers from a gastrointestinal ailment that, while manageable, can flare up at times of extreme stress.
In his resignation speech on Thursday a tired-looking Abe said he was leaving for purely political reasons.
His position had been weakened by his Liberal Democratic party’s [LDP] heavy defeat in upper house elections in July and the loss of five Cabinet ministers — one of whom committed suicide — during a year in office plagued by financial scandals and an administrative fiasco involving millions of missing pension records. Seasoned LDP watchers said many of Abe’s party colleagues had lost confidence in him. ”Most members of the LDP believed the Abe Cabinet would come to an end sooner or later — they were already thinking about the next stage,” said Rei Shiratori, president of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan. ”He was simply neglected by almost every member of his party.”
There were also suggestions that allegations, to be published this weekend, that Abe had evaded tax had made his position untenable. The Shukan Gendai, a weekly magazine, reportedly has evidence that Abe donated ¥2,5-billion he inherited upon his father’s death in 1991 to his political support group, thereby avoiding inheritance tax.
”Abe made a point of saying that any minister who could not offer a reasonable explanation of dubious financial dealings should resign,” Shiratori said. ”If he holds himself to the same standards, then he must have known he would face enormous difficulties.”
While opposition parties called for an early election, the LDP was hastily arranging a contest to find Abe’s successor.
The Finance Minister, Fukushiro Nukaga, was the first to publicly say he would run in the vote on September 23. ”In this time of difficulty a politician’s responsibility and mission is to take the bull by the horns. I want to take the lead,” he said.
Taro Aso, Abe’s former foreign minister, and Yasuo Fukuda, a former chief Cabinet secretary, are also tipped to run.
Whoever wins could find himself hurled into a debate over Japan’s contribution to the US war on terror. On Thursday Abe said a new leader would stand a better chance of extending Japan’s logistical mission in support of US forces in Afghanistan beyond its November 1 deadline. – Guardian Unlimited Ã‚