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Japan PM Suga to resign amid criticism over COVID-19 response

by ZwemZa on September 3rd, 2021

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence, as the government declares a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) state of emergency in Tokyo almost two weeks before the start of the Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan July 8, 2021. Nicolas Datiche/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed his intention to resign Friday amid mounting criticism over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The development came just under a year after Suga took office and as his ruling Liberal Democratic Party prepares to hold its presidential election on Sept. 29, with campaigning starting on Sept. 17.

“I had planned to run, but dealing with both COVID-19 and the election would require an enormous amount of energy. I decided that there was no way to do both, that I had to choose,” Suga told reporters, adding, “I decided to focus on coronavirus measures.”

Tokyo stocks extended their gains after the news reports, with the 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average gaining 524.99 points, or 1.84 percent, from Thursday to 29,068.50 as of 1 p.m.

Suga was quoted by a participant at an extraordinary meeting of LDP executives held earlier in the day, as saying he will serve out his term through Sept. 30.

A source at the prime minister’s office said Suga hit a snag in his plans to reshuffle the party’s executives, which he hoped to carry out on Monday.

Facing low public support, Suga has been planning to reshuffle party executives as well as his Cabinet lineup ahead of the party contest, including replacing LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s No. 2 leader of five years.

Nikai said Suga has not named a successor and the LDP leadership race will be held as scheduled.

The contest, which will now choose Suga’s successor, comes ahead of a general election that must be held as the House of Representatives members’ term expires on Oct. 21.

Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat into the ring, while Sanae Takaichi, a former minister of internal affairs and communications, has expressed interest in running.

Kishida said Friday his intention to run in the party leadership race is “unchanged.”

Takaichi said she was “appalled” at Suga’s flip-flopping on running in the race, and that she “will fight till the end” of it.

LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura, who had given up on running in the election after being asked by Suga to focus on the coronavirus response, said “the situation has changed” and he will consult fellow LDP members.

The stock market climbed “on high expectations that a new government would implement new economic measures against the coronavirus fallout,” said Maki Sawada, a strategist in Nomura Securities Co.’s investment content department.

Suga had earlier announced his bid for a second term as the party chief as his current term expires on Sept. 30. But he gave up on the plan amid falling support within the party as well as the public.

Suga had been forced to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency that had been in place in Tokyo until Sept. 12 and expand it to cover 21 of Japan’s 47 prefectures as hospitals came under increasing strain.

Suga, who served as chief Cabinet secretary for then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for more than seven years, won the party leadership race last year against Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and became prime minister on Sept. 16 in succeeding Abe, who stepped down from the post for health reasons.

Suga pledged to succeed Abe’s economic and diplomatic policies, vowed to eliminate sectionalism, and create a “Cabinet that works for the people.”

The approval rate for his Cabinet stood at over 60 percent at the time. It, however, gradually fell after a slew of wining and dining scandals involving his close aide and his son and plunged to the lowest level of 31.8 percent in a Kyodo News poll in August in the face of the public’s rebuke against the government’s coronavirus response.

Kyodo News

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