Japan’s Suga to step down as prime minister this month: party
Japanese leader saw his support ratings sink to below 30 percent as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 cases.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will not run in a ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership race later this month, public broadcaster NHK reported on Friday, setting the stage for his replacement after just one year in office.
Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September citing ill health, has seen his support ratings sink to below 30 percent as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 infections ahead of a general election this year.
“Today at the executive meeting, (party) president Suga said he wants to focus his efforts on anti-coronavirus measures and will not run in the leadership election,” Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP’s secretary general, told reporters after news of Suga’s departure was reported.
“Honestly, I’m surprised. It’s truly regrettable. He did his best but after careful consideration, he made this decision,” he added.
The shock announcement comes with Suga’s approval ratings at an all-time low over his government’s handling of the response to the pandemic.
But it was a decision that had not been foreshadowed, with Suga dropping no hints of his plans to leave office after just a single year in power and before contesting his first general election.
He had also faced intense domestic criticism after deciding to go ahead with the hosting of the Tokyo Olympics, despite the ongoing health emergency due to the pandemic.
Ahead of the LDP meeting and leadership election on September 30, many younger legislators at the receiving end of the public’s discontent due to the administration’s handling of the health crisis expressed loss of faith in the leadership, and have hinted of a leadership challenge.
Last month, former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, threw her hat into the ring as a potential replacement.
When Suga became prime minister last year, analysts had hoped that his insider’s knowledge of the complexities of Japan’s bureaucracy and skilful political deal-making from his long tenure as Abe’s righthand man, would help in the formidable challenges the country faced.
However, as the country’s pandemic situation worsened, the public also soured on Suga, as he also defied the majority’s opposition to scrap the hosting of the Summer Olympics, which was already delayed for a year.
Before becoming prime minister, Suga had kept a relatively low profile and stood in the shadow of the Abe.
He only became better known to the public when he was the one to unveil the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, a celebratory moment that marked the ascension of the new emperor and went viral, earning him the nickname “Uncle Reiwa”.
Behind the scenes, associates and analysts say Suga has been instrumental in shifting elements of decision-making from Japan’s sprawling bureaucracy to the prime minister office and taming factional rivalries within the LDP.
However, as prime minister, he was weighed down by criticism of the pandemic, which also affected efforts to revive the country’s economy.