Japanese PM Resigns Following Year-Long Political Turmoil

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced his resignation after a year of missteps and scandals. The resignation is apparently an effort to prevent cancellation of Japan's non-combat role in Afghanistan. VOA's Naomi Martig reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

After a very troubled year that saw Japan's ruling party embroiled in allegations of financial wrongdoings and scandals, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to call it quits.

During a televised news conference, Mr. Abe says he is resigning because he believes Japan needs a new leader to fight against terrorism, and the country needs a new leader the people can support and trust.

Last week, Mr. Abe said he would resign if lawmakers did not extend a Japanese naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. Japan's navy has been refueling coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since 2001.

The law enabling that mission is set to expire November 1, and the opposition Democratic Party, which won control of the upper house of parliament in July, opposes an extension.

The naval mission has been a priority for Mr. Abe since he came into office last September, along with boosting Japan's global influence and revising the country's pacifist constitution.

Jeff Kingston is director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan. Kingston says Mr. Abe's colleagues in the Liberal Democratic Party realized that the opposition's repeated calls for him to step down could make extending the naval mission very difficult.

"So I think that the party elders realized, well, if there is any chance of reviving this legislation in some form or another, and to strike a deal with the opposition on extending this legislation, that Abe had to go," Kingston said.

Yoshinori Suematsu, a member of the Democratic Party in Japan's lower house, says Mr. Abe's announcement was irresponsible, because just weeks ago he had refused to consider resigning.

"Every member of the diet was really surprised by the sudden news," said Suematsu. "We are very much embarrassed by no clear reason stated by Prime Minister, Mr. Abe."

Mr. Abe and the party received high popularity ratings at the beginning of the year. But the ratings have plummeted following a series of scandals.

First, the government admitted it had mishandled thousands of pension records. Four cabinet ministers have since resigned following accusations of financial wrongdoing, and a fifth committed suicide just before being questioned in yet another financial scandal.

Mr. Abe says he has instructed party leaders to search immediately for a new prime minister. Japanese media are reporting that a new election will be held on September 19th, and Taro Aso, secretary-general of the LDP, is considered a leading contender.

Mr. Abe is the youngest Japanese leader in modern times and the first to be born after World War II. He was praised for his efforts to improve ties with China and South Korea, which were badly damaged during his predecessor's term.