Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday he will not run for re-election as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. The announcement effectively ends his run as prime minister just a year after it began.
“I have decided not to run for the party leadership elections, as I would like to focus on coronavirus measures,” Suga told reporters at a Tokyo press conference.
Suga became prime minister last September. He took over for Shinzo Abe, who stepped down for health reasons. The son of a farmer, Suga enjoyed public support ratings as high as 70 percent early in office. He was seen as a leader of common people, rather than of powerful political families like Abe.
However, Suga’s political popularity sharply fell as he struggled to control the coronavirus pandemic. He came under strong criticism about his approach to the health crisis from the public and his own party.
Much of the criticism has centered on his decision to host the Tokyo Olympics this summer even with widespread public opposition. He had hoped that a successful Olympics would increase his public support.
Shortly after the Games began in late July, Japan saw its worst increase in coronavirus infections. Suga put in place states of emergency to slow the spread. But they have had little effect.
Japan’s COVID infection rate continues to stay high. Although, its virus death rate remains relatively low compared to many other developed countries.
A recent survey by public broadcaster NHK shows that 60 percent of Japanese people are unhappy with Suga’s response to the virus. Many are also unhappy with the country’s vaccine effort. Vaccination rates have only recently started to rise.
Corey Wallace teaches at Japan’s Kanagawa University. He said in many ways Suga’s biggest problem was his poor communication skills. Suga has been criticized for giving overly hopeful messages about the state of the crisis.
“And that’s just made it very hard for him to overcome all these little problems, all these little criticisms, all the doubts that people have about whether the government is fully in control or is just reacting to what comes up at any given time,” Wallace said.
Efforts to stay in power
In an effort to stay in power, Suga had planned to restructure his cabinet. However, he failed to win the support of several important party leaders. Many were worried about their own position in the upcoming election for the lower house of the legislature known as the Diet. The election must happen before the end of November.
Most observers expect the LDP to keep its majority in the election. However, the party has performed poorly in several recent local elections.
Party leaders most likely to replace Suga include former Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, and current environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi.
I’m Dan Novak.
William Gallo reported this story for Voice of America and Mari Yamaguchi reported it for The Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
focus — n. a subject that is being discussed or studied
survey — n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something
response — n. something that is said or written as a reply to something
overcome — v. to defeat (someone or something)
doubt — v. to be uncertain about (something) : to believe that (something) may not be true or is unlikely