Japan’s PM Suga steps down, sets stage for a new premier

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a cabinet meeting at his official residence in Tokyo Friday, September 3, 2021. Broadcaster NHK says Mr. Suga won't run for party leader, hinting he will resign as Japanese leader at the end of September | Photo Credit: AP
AP Tokyo: 03 September 2021 09:11 IST
Updated: 03 September 2021 21:18 IST

His 1-year tenure was marred by unpopular virus response

Amid growing criticism of his handling of the pandemic, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday he won’t run for the leadership of the governing party later this month, paving the way for a new Japanese leader after just a year in office.

Mr. Suga told reporters that heading Japan’s pandemic response and campaigning to lead his governing Liberal Democratic Party at the same time divided his energies. “I have decided not to run for the party leadership elections, as I would like to focus on coronavirus measures,” Mr. Suga told reporters who rushed to his office after the news broke.

Mr. Suga has faced criticism and nosediving public support over a coronavirus response seen as too slow and limited and for holding the Olympics despite the public’s health concerns. His hope of having the Olympic festivities help turn around his plunging popularity was also dashed.


He said he had put all his energy into important issues including the virus response since he took office.

“But doing both takes enormous energy and I have decided that I should just choose one or the other,” he said. “As I have repeatedly said, protecting people’s lives and health is my responsibility as prime minister, and that’s what I will dedicate myself to.”

The Liberal Democrats and their coalition partner have a majority in Parliament, meaning whoever wins the September 29 party vote is virtually guaranteed to become the new Prime Minister.

The official start of the party campaign is September 17. Candidacy requires factional support largely controlled by party heavyweights, and their choices may not match those favoured in public opinion surveys.

Two Cabinet Ministers in former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government have come out as potential candidates: dovish former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, currently seen as a top contender, and former Interior Minister Sanae Takaichi, who shares Mr. Abe’s rightwing ideology.

Current Vaccinations Minister Taro Kono also expressed interest on Friday, saying he will make a final decision after consulting fellow lawmakers. Former Defence Miniter Shigeru Ishiba, a favorite in media surveys, and Seiko Noda, former gender equality minister, also reportedly have expressed intentions to run.