After just one year in office, Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced on Friday that he would step down and make way for new leadership, a decision that despite his declining popular support, still came as a surprise to many, as Reuters reports.
Taking office following the resignation of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe roughly this time last year, Suga has suffered dramatic drops in approval – reaching as low as 28% – amid his country’s struggles with escalating COVID-19 case rates and other challenges.
As The Hill noted, Suga, 72, revealed that he had no plans to mount a contest in the ruling party’s leadership battle set to occur in a matter of weeks, an event which precedes the country’s general election in November, declaring his preference for focusing on coronavirus response measures instead of seeking re-election.
“Both require a lot of energy. …so I felt I should focus on measures to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19,” Suga explained during a Friday press conference, as the Washington Post reported.
According to The Hill, some observers believe that Suga’s decision to depart is indicative of his lack of confidence in senior figures in his Liberal Democratic Party, and reports out of Japan suggest that younger members of the party have complained that they “cannot fight under Suga” in the context of their own election campaigns.
Amid that context, the leadership of Suga’s party have accepted his decision, with Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic faction said about the situation, “To be honest, I am surprised, but I think he made the decision after thorough consideration. We believe that it is not appropriate for us to question him about it.”
According to Reuters, stocks in Tokyo showed notable gains, with the Nikeei benchmarch jumping 2% and the Topix indicator reaching its highest point since 1991.
Reuters noted that while no obvious frontrunner to succeed Suga has yet emerged, Taro Kono, the minister who has taken the lead in Japan’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, enjoys significant popularity and is planning to mount a campaign for the post.
It is anticipated that Suga will remain in his post until his party selects a successor on Sept. 29, and from there, that individual – who will be deemed premier by default because of the Liberal Democratic Party’s lower house majority – is required to call for the general election to be held by Nov. 28, at which point the permanent prime minister will be installed.