Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday he would step down, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure marred by an unpopular COVID-19 response and rapidly dwindling public support.
Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resignedlast September citing ill health, has seen his support ratings sink to below 30% as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 infections ahead of a general election this year.
Suga did not capitalise on his last major achievement – hosting the Olympics, which were postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic months before Suga took office as coronavirus cases surged.
Suga’s decision to not run in a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) election in September means the party will choose a new leader, who will become prime minister.
Before Abe – Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, with an eight-year tenure – the country had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year tenure.
Japan’s Nikkei average futuresjumped 2% immediately after media reports that Suga would not run, while the broader Topix Index extended its gains and hit its highest levels since 1991 following the news.
“I want to focus on coronavirus response, so I told the LDP executive meeting that I’ve decided not to run in the party leadership race,” Suga told reporters.
“I judged that I cannot juggle both and I should concentrate on either of them,” Suga said. He added that he would hold a news conference as early as next week.
The address ended a rollercoaster week in which Suga pulled out all the stops to save his job, including suggestions he would sack his long-term party ally, as well as plans to dissolve parliament and reshuffle party executive and his cabinet.
Ruling LDP officials said Suga would stay on until his successor is chosen in party-wide election slated for Sept. 29.
The winner of the contest is all but assured of being premier because of the LDP’s majority in the lower house. The government has been considering holding the general election on Oct. 17.