Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister is preparing to step down due to health concerns, national broadcaster NHK has said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the report could not be immediately confirmed, but that Mr Abe was believed to be meeting top ruling officials at his Liberal Democrat Party headquarters.
Mr Abe has battled the disease ulcerative colitis for years and two recent hospital visits within a week fanned questions on whether he could stay in the job until the end of his term as ruling party leader, and hence, premier, in September 2021.
As the news spread, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei average fell 2.12% to 22,717.02, while the broader Topix shed 1% to 1,599.70.
The conservative Mr Abe returned as prime minister for a rare second term in December 2012, pledging to revive growth with his “Abenomics” mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, fiscal spending and reforms.
He also pledged to beef up Japan’s defences and aimed to revise the pacifist constitution.
On Monday, he surpassed a record for longest consecutive tenure as premier set by his great-uncle Eisaku Sato half a century ago.
Mr Abe has acknowledged having ulcerative colitis since he was a teenager and has said the condition was controlled with treatment. He has not made clear if it is related to his recent health issues or hospital visits.
After his hospital visits were reported, top officials from his Cabinet and the ruling party said the leader was overworked and badly needed rest.
The PM’s support ratings are already at their lowest levels due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its severe impact on the economy, on top of a slew of political scandals.