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Japan’s Prime Minister has said he will not run for his ruling party’s leadership, effectively ending his tenure after a year in charge following a disastrous surge in coronavirus cases blamed on the Olympics.
Yoshihide Suga’s shock announcement on Friday comes as his approval ratings sank to an all-time low over his government’s handling of the pandemic.
It also suggests a possible return to political instability for Japan, which cycled through prime ministers regularly before the lengthy tenure of Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe.
‘In one year since I became prime minister, I have poured all of my strength into dealing with the various problems facing the country, with anti-coronavirus measures at the forefront,’ Suga, 72, told reporters in Tokyo.
He said he realised that running for election and handling the virus response would require ‘enormous energy’.
‘I came to the realisation that I cannot do both. I had to choose one of them,’ he added.
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secretary general Toshihiro Nikai said he was ‘surprised’ by Suga’s decision not to stand in the September 29 leadership race.
‘It’s truly regrettable. He did his best,’ Nikai said.
It was a decision that had not been foreshadowed, with Suga dropping no hints of his plans to leave office after just a single year in power and before contesting his first general election.
He came to office last year, stepping into the post left empty when Abe resigned for health reasons.
Suga had been widely expected to seek re-election as LDP leader, with most speculation surrounding only how soon after that he would call a general election.
The election must be called by late October and held by the following month, with the LDP expected to remain in power but possibly lose seats as a result of Suga’s unpopularity.
His government’s approval rating has nosedived to an all-time low of 31.8 percent, according to a poll by the Kyodo news agency last month.
And recent reports about his plans for a cabinet reshuffle, as an attempt to remedy his unpopularity, appeared to be insufficient.
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