Tokyo (CNN) – The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide SugaHe said, on Friday, that he would not run in the upcoming elections to lead his party, for relinquishing the position of prime minister and opening the race to other candidates after a turbulent period of less than a year.
Suga, who took office last September after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, resigned over health concerns, has seen public support erode as he struggles to contain the growing coronavirus outbreak in Japan.
“Working on anti-coronavirus countermeasures and electoral activities requires a tremendous amount of energy, so I decided I couldn’t work on both and had to choose one,” he told reporters in Tokyo on Friday. “My job as prime minister is to protect people’s lives and livelihoods, so I would like to focus on this.”
He added that he will hold a press conference next week.
Suga’s decision not to run in the LDP leadership election, scheduled for September 29, comes after a difficult 11 months in office marked by a high number of coronavirus infections and a slow vaccination campaign.
The winner of the Democratic Liberation Party leadership elections is expected to become prime minister, given the majority the party enjoys in the House of Representatives. General elections are scheduled for later this year.
Suga, 72, the son of a farmer and a former carton factory worker, was considered a successful politician with a reputation for being able to get things done.
The leader of the Democratic Liberation Party was elected last September with about 70% of the vote. His appointment was widely seen as an attempt within the ruling party to bolster an image of stability and continuity between Suga and outgoing leader Abe. The two men worked closely together during the nearly eight years of Abe’s rule, and Suga served as Cabinet Secretary in Abe’s government.
However, Suga was unable to fully break out of his predecessor’s shadow. His handling of the pandemic, in particular, has drawn widespread criticism, with opponents denouncing his government’s slow and hesitant response.
But it was waning support within his party that ultimately cost Suga his job, according to Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Nakano said Suga tried to pressure the Democratic Liberation Party to “submit… hinting that he might call early elections to pre-empt the ruling party’s presidential election.”
“So he was now supposed to also work on a cabinet reshuffle and also re-elect key figures in the ruling party to show leadership, and in both cases he was seen as too far-fetched and impulsive.”
Last December, Suga ruled out the need for Emergency For the coronavirus, only to announce one for Tokyo and several other prefectures in the following month. Before that, his administration encouraged domestic consumption with the popular “Go To” campaign, offering Japanese citizens deep discounts on travel. Experts have pointed to the campaign, which was finally halted in December, as a possible driver of the virus’ spread in Japan.
Suga’s decision to go ahead with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite warnings from health officials, including the country’s top coronavirus adviser, has also been unpopular, with polls showing a majority of the public against organizing a major sporting event during the pandemic.
Citing the Olympics in particular, Sophia University’s Nakano said Suga was overwhelmed by Abe’s legacy. “difficulty [Suga] It was just that he was trying to make his mark and show that he was an independent politician. But he was constrained by the political legacies left by his predecessor.
Although the mini-games passed without major incidents, cases of Covid-19 soared to record levels this summer. Experts say that holding the Games while Tokyo is in a state of emergency has also sent conflicting messages to the public.
Even opinion polls that showed general opposition to the games waned when they failed to boost Suga’s popularity among voters.
By August, his popularity had fallen to a record low of 31.8%, while more than 65% of those surveyed said they did not want him to remain prime minister, according to a Kyodo News poll.
Meanwhile, several emergencies, including in Tokyo, have hit businesses amid growing frustration at the apparent lack of a clear path out of the pandemic. Japan’s vaccination campaign lags behind other developed nations, apparently hampered by bureaucracy and logistical obstacles.
CNN’s Celina Wang contributed to this report.
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