Japan's chronically unpopular prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, suddenly announced his resignation after less than a year in office Monday, throwing the world's second-largest economy into political confusion.
Fukuda, in a hastily arranged evening news conference, said he was stepping down to avoid a "political vacuum" as the deeply troubled government heads into a special parliamentary session later in the month.
The 72-year-old leader made the announcement just days after unveiling $18 billion in fresh spending to shore up the flagging economy. Inflation has spiked to its highest in nearly 11 years, hurting consumer spending.
"I felt that we must particularly stress the importance of the economy," Fukuda said in the nationally televised address. "If it will help even a little bit to make the parliamentary session go smoother, I decided that it might be better for someone other than me to be in the lead."
Chronically low approval ratings
Fukuda, whose father also served as prime minister, has suffered from chronically low approval ratings as he presided over a parliament split between the ruling party and the opposition. One poll published Monday showed his approval rating at 29 percent, down sharply over the past month.
Fukuda recently installed former Foreign Minister Taro Aso as secretary-general of the ruling party. Aso has kept a low profile during nearly all of Fukuda's term and could be seen as offering a fresh start for the party.
The move perpetuates the political uncertainty that has plagued Japan since the popular Junichiro Koizumi left the premiership two years ago.
Koizumi's hand-picked successor, Shinzo Abe, lasted a year in office, resigning in September 2007 for health reasons. Fukuda, considered a steady elder who would lend stability to the office, ended up lasting about the same time as his predecessor.
Fukuda did not specify when the resignation would take effect, but presumably he will stay in office until the ruling Liberal Democratic Party can select a new leader to put before parliament for a vote.