Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that he will not run in a ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership race later this month, setting the stage for his replacement after just one year in office.
“Running in the race and handling coronavirus countermeasures would have required an enormous amount of energy,” he told reporters in Tokyo on Friday.
Suga, 72, who took over after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned last September, citing ill health, has seen his support ratings sink below 30 per cent as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 infections, ahead of a general election this year.
“Today at the executive meeting, [party] President Suga said he wants to focus his efforts on anti-coronavirus measures and will not run in the leadership election,” Toshihiro Nikai, the LDP’s secretary-general, told reporters after news of Suga’s departure was reported.
“Honestly, I’m surprised. It’s truly regrettable. He did his best but after careful consideration, he made this decision,” he added.
The shock announcement comes with Suga’s approval ratings at an all-time low over his government’s handling of the response to the pandemic.
But it was a decision that had not been foreshadowed, with Suga not dropping any hints of his plans to leave office after just a single year in power and before contesting his first general election.
Daiju Aoki, the chief Japan economist at UBS SUMI Trust Wealth Management, told the Reuters news agency that the announcement was a surprise.
“But it provided more certainty and forward-looking prospects rather than uncertainty” as the country tries to combat the coronavirus, Aoki said.
Suga had faced intense domestic criticism after deciding to go ahead with hosting the Tokyo Olympics, despite the ongoing health emergency due to the pandemic.
-AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES