Suga bows out of party vote, paves way for new Japan leader

TOKYO: Amid growing criticism of his handling of the pandemic, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday he won’t run for the leadership of the governing party later this month, paving the way for a new Japanese leader after just a year in office.

Suga told reporters that heading Japan’s pandemic response and campaigning to lead his governing Liberal Democratic Party at the same time divided his energies. “I have decided not to run for the party leadership elections, as I would like to focus on coronavirus measures,” Suga told reporters who rushed to his office after the news broke.

Suga has faced criticism and nosediving public support over a coronavirus response seen as too slow and limited and for holding the Olympics despite the public’s health concerns. His hope of having the Olympic festivities help turn around his plunging popularity was also dashed.

He said he had put all his energy into important issues including the virus response since he took office.

“But doing both takes enormous energy and I have decided that I should just choose one or the other,” he said. “As I have repeatedly said, protecting people’s lives and health is my responsibility as prime minister, and that’s what I will dedicate myself to.”

The Liberal Democrats and their coalition partner have a majority in parliament, meaning whoever wins the Sept. 29 party vote is virtually guaranteed to become the new prime minister. - AP