The party will hold its inaugural conference on September 29, and Suga’s announcement came as a surprise to Japanese domestic politics because so far the 72-year-old politician has been the party’s favorite and served as prime minister for nearly a year.
Lekai General Secretary Nikai Toshihiro, who assured Suga of his support in a recent interview with Kyodo News, also expressed surprise after the announcement. The general secretary had earlier emphasized that Suga would be of great benefit to the party if he remained in office.
The prime minister himself said he would hold a press conference on the matter next week, adding that he would focus on the government’s epidemiological policy for the remainder of his term. Former Prime Minister Abe Sendzo resigned as prime minister last fall due to health reasons. On the other hand, the popularity of the Suga Jozehide government has fallen to record levels, below 30 percent, as the country grapples with the most devastating wave of the coronavirus pandemic to date. According to recent opinion polls, the prime minister’s approval rating has fallen to about 26%.
Many also blame Suga for failing to reap an advantage from the Tokyo Olympics, when a pandemic emergency has already been declared for the fourth time in a prefecture that includes the country’s capital and several other prefectures. Others also blamed Suga and his government for the slow pace of the vaccination campaign.
This week, the prime minister was also criticized by world-renowned Japanese writer Murakami Haruki, who said on a radio show somewhat sarcastically that “if the prime minister sees a way out of the epidemic, he must have very sharp eyes.” Former Foreign Minister Kiseida Fumio also criticized Suga’s epidemic policy. The politician announced his candidacy at the Liberal Democratic Party presidential convention last week, and is considered by some analysts as one of the most likely candidates. Among the novices were the name of Kono Taro, the minister in charge of the vaccination program, and former Minister of Defense Eziba Segeru. The new party leader will also be the country’s next head of government if his person is approved by Parliament. He will lead the government until the autumn parliamentary elections, which will be held on November 28 at the latest.
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