Abrupt announcement after one year on the job . . .
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga abruptly announced Friday that he would not seek re-election as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during the next party election, scheduled for later this month. Suga’s resignation coincides with his record low public support of 26 per cent, mainly due to his perceived mishandling of the pandemic. Whoever is elected as the head of the LDP will become prime minister until Japan’s next general election, scheduled on or before November 28.
A tumultuous year . . .
Suga became prime minister last September after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's unexpected resignation due to health reasons. On top of the gargantuan challenges facing the Japanese economy, Suga’s year at the helm was dogged by his unpopular responses to the pandemic. He was also unable to capitalize on hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games (the latter wrapped up on Saturday). While Japan’s record total (58) and gold medal (27) tally helped boost public support, it wasn't enough to ease widespread public sentiment that the Games were unnecessary given the rising COVID-19 case count and immense pressure on the medical system.
A return to ‘revolving door’ prime ministers?
Japan’s stock market rose after Suga announced his departure, with some indexes rising to levels not seen since the 1990s. Front runners for the September 29 party leadership vote include Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono, who also oversees Japan’s COVID-19 vaccine program, and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, a right-wing nationalist, is reportedly supported by former PM Shinzo Abe. If successful, she could become the country’s first female prime minister. But there is also speculation that Abe might come out of retirement to become prime minister for a third term. Regardless of who wins the party’s top spot, they will still need to make it through the general election in the fall. Suga’s departure places him among Japan’s ‘revolving door’ prime ministers and may signal a return of that trend for future leaders.