Tokyo-Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to resign over health problems, top lawmakers said Friday, in a bombshell development that will end a record-setting tenure with no clear successor yet in place.

Abe announced his plan at an emergency meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, senior lawmaker and close Abe ally Tomomi Inada told reporters. “I heard his plan. It was sudden and unexpected. I am stunned,” she said. Other lawmakers confirmed the account.

The news came hours before Abe was due to give a press conference to address speculation about his health. It sent Tokyo stocks plunging more than two percent, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 index reversing earlier gains. Inada told reporters Abe will stay in office until a successor is decided, most likely through an election of ruling party lawmakers and members. 

Rumours about Abe’s possible resignation had intensified after two recent surprise hospital visits for unspecified medical checks, but in recent days, senior government officials had suggested he would serve out the rest of remaining year in office. But the decision nonetheless comes as “a big surprise”, said Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo. “His resignation comes at a time when Japan is facing tough issues, including measures against the coronavirus,” Nishikawa told AFP. “There may be political confusion.”

The resignation will be a bitterly familiar scenario for Abe, who stepped down just one year into his first term, in 2007, over health problems. He was subsequently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which he said upon return to office in 2012 was under control with the help of new medication.