A day really is a long time in politics: on Thursday, Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured) was all set to stand for re-election as leader of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. On Friday he was telling reporters that he’d decided to step down after less than a year in office. “I had planned to run but dealing with both coronavirus and the election would require an enormous amount of energy,” said Suga. “I decided that there was no way to do both; that I had to choose. I decided to focus on coronavirus measures.”
Speculation about Suga’s precarious position had been rampant in recent weeks. A combination of seemingly endless coronavirus restrictions, a slow vaccine rollout and the decision to go ahead with the Olympic Games has turned public opinion against him. He tried to shore up his position by planning a reshuffle for this week but it seems that the party heavyweights were having none of it. The behind-the-scenes machinations are opaque but many think that Suga was pressured to stand aside to give the LDP a better shot in this autumn’s general election.
So who will replace him in the leadership election on 29 September? Public polls have consistently favoured party maverick and English-speaker Taro Kono, who is currently in charge of the vaccine programme. Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister, is also liked by the public – if less so by the party. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida is in the running and right-winger Sanae Takaichi has thrown her hat into the ring, though she has yet to secure the requisite 20 members of the Diet (Japan’s legislature) to support her candidacy. Choppy waters are ahead for Japan but Suga’s unexpected announcement has at least injected some much-needed energy into Japanese politics.