Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that he will not seek reelection after serving in office for almost exactly a year, reports The New York Times. The decision came after numerous attempts to try to salvage an administration that has become highly unpopular. Much of his unpopularity came due to due to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his reputation as a deeply uncharismatic leader who struggled to connect with the public.
Suga, 72, took the leadership role after the country’s then-Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, stepped down for health reasons. Suga previously served as Chief Cabinet Secretary before taking on the top job. The decision to host the Olympic Games in 2021 despite the worsening state of COVID-19 in the country proved to be highly unpopular among Japanese citizens, as reported by BBC News. With hospitals at capacity being forced to turn away patients, Suga’s reputation could not recover from the ongoing economic and pandemic-driven fallout.
Prime Minister Suga’s fate mostly rested on his administration’s ability to keep the faith of the citizens of Japan, Brookings states. His party leadership and ranking officials also lost confidence in his ability to lead the country. Suga’s party, the Liberal Democratic Party, suffered several political defeats, including the loss of a mayoral was a loss in Yokohama, Suga’s political stomping grounds.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine efforts, currently leads popular opinion polls among candidates that may run for Prime Minister of Japan, reports CNBC. Suga has also endorsed Kono’s potential campaign. However, the minister himself has yet to officially confirm his intention to run. The Japan Times reports that Kono, 58, previously held several diplomatic and defense ministerial posts within the Japanese government, currently doubles as the minister for administrative and regulatory reform, and belongs to one of the party’s major factions headed by former Prime Minister Taro Aso.
According to Reuters, Suga is expected to stay in office until his successor is chosen in party elections on September 29. Suga has been an important ally in the United States’ efforts in pushing against China’s influence over the region. A State Departments spokesperson told reporters that U.S. President Joe Biden was grateful for Suga’s leadership and partnership throughout his time as Prime Minister, reports.
As the future of Japan’s highest office remains unclear, Suga’s future in politics is perhaps more uncertain. It is unknown if the people of Japan be forgiving and welcome his leadership in the future. However, Suga will likely be remembered as a Prime Minister who stepped down because he could not lead the people of Japan out of a crisis. Japan’s upcoming elections will certainly be watched internationally, especially by the United States, China, and other nations close to the island nation.