Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday that he will not seek re-election in his ruling party’s leadership election, expanding the field for the next leader of the world’s third-largest economy.
The shock decision after just a year in office comes with Suga’s approval ratings at an all-time low over his government’s pandemic response.
And it suggests a possible return to political turbulence for Japan, which regularly cycled through prime ministers 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 told reporters.
He said he realized that running for election and handling virus policies would require “enormous energy”.
“I came to the realization 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.
Suga had dropped no hints of his plans to leave office before contesting his first general election, having replaced Abe who resigned for health reasons.
He 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. The LDP is expected to remain in power, though some members feared losing seats due to Suga’s unpopularity.
His government’s approval rating has nosedived to an all-time low of 31.8 percent, according to a poll by Kyodo news agency last month.