After a one-year reign hampered by an unpopular COVID-19 reaction and fast diminishing public support, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation on Friday, paving the way for a new premier.
As the country grapples with its biggest wave of COVID-19 infections ahead of a national election this year, Suga, who took office after Shinzo Abe quit last September citing ill health, has seen his popularity plummet below 30%.
Suga failed to capitalise on his most recent great accomplishment: holding the Olympics, which had been postponed months before Suga assumed office due to an increase in coronavirus cases.
His decision not to run for re-election as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in this month’s election means the party will elect a new leader, who would then become Prime Minister.
There is no apparent frontrunner, but Taro Kono, the popular minister in charge of vaccination rollout, plans to run, according to TBS, which did not cite sources. Fumio Kishida, the former foreign minister of Japan, has already declared his candidacy.
Prior to Abe’s record eight-year stint, the country had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own tumultuous first year in office.
On hearing of Suga’s decision, Tokyo markets soared, with the Nikkei gaining 2% and the wider Topix reaching fresh highs not seen since 1991.
“I want to focus on coronavirus response,” Suga told reporters. “I told the LDP executive meeting that I’ve decided not to compete for party leadership.” “I decided that I couldn’t juggle both and that I needed focus on one of them.”
He stated that a press conference would be held as soon as next week.
The announcement came at the end of a tumultuous week in which Suga tried everything to save his career, including rumours that he would fire a long-time party ally and plans to dismiss parliament and replace the party executive and his cabinet.