Japan PM Yoshihide Suga announces he wonât run for re-election as party leader
Japanâs prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, is to step down from his partyâs leadership this month amid mounting discontent at his governmentâs handling of the pandemic.
âThe battle against the coronavirus takes a vast amount of energy and I donât feel it is possible to carry on with that and fight the upcoming election for the party leadership,â said Suga in a brief statement to reporters, during which he took no questions.
Suga took office less than a year ago, stepping up after serving as chief cabinet secretary and government spokesperson. The ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) is due to hold its leadership election on 29 September and Suga had been widely expected to seek reelection.
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Support for Sugaâs cabinet has been drifting continually downward as coronavirus infections have continued to rise even as the government imposed repeated states of emergency. Tokyo is under its fourth of state of emergency, which already been extended multiple times and is expected to be again before the scheduled lifting on 12 September. Japan has recorded nearly 16,000 deaths during the pandemic.
Recent polls have shown support levels for the government hovering at about 25%.
Earlier this week, Suga had decided to replace the LDPâs powerful secretary general, Toshihiro Nikai, and reshuffle his cabinet in an attempt to turn public opinion, but appears to have come to the conclusion that such moves would not be enough to save his premiership.
âToday 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,â Nikai said. âHonestly, Iâm surprised. Itâs truly regrettable. He did his best but after careful consideration, he made this decision.â
Defence minister Nobuo Kishi told the Guardian he was very surprised by the news, and that it was difficult to know how to respond. âAs a member of the Suga cabinet Iâm in the position of looking at how to continue to ensure the policies of the Suga administration are being implemented, as well as personally having the responsibility of course for defence issues as well.â
Kishi said implementation of policies would continue during the remainder of Sugaâs term.
Asked if the political upheaval complicated Japanâs efforts to ensure stability in the region, coming amid increased tensions with China in particular - Kishi instead just said the party leadership and election processes would continue.
Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida had already decided to challenge Suga for the leadership, this week promising a huge stimulus package to help drive economic recovery from the pandemic.
Sanae Takaichi, a former minister of internal affairs and communications, is also expected to run and on Friday criticised Suga for going back and forth on his decision on whether or not to run for the leadership, saying she was âappalledâ at his behaviour.
Whoever ends up winning the contest for PM, there are unlikely to be major policy shifts by the centre-right LDP. The LDP has ruled Japan almost continuously since 1955, bar a stint in power for the Democratic party of Japan between 2009 and 2012, and a coalition government in 1993 to 1994.
The Tokyo stock market responded positively to the news of Sugaâs resignation, pushing earlier gains to 1.95% shortly after the announcement.
Before taking the top office Suga served in the prominent role of chief cabinet secretary, and he had earned a fearsome reputation for wielding his power to control Japanâs sprawling and powerful bureaucracy.
The son of a strawberry farmer and a schoolteacher, Suga was raised in rural Akita in northern Japan and put himself through college after moving to Tokyo by working at a factory.
He was elected to his first office in 1987 as a municipal assembly member in Yokohama outside Tokyo, and entered parliament in 1996.
With Agence France-Presse