Japan: unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to throw in the towel

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AFP

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5 sept. 2021

Struggling in the polls, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Friday that he would not run for head of his party in an internal election at the end of September, thus giving up his hold on power.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to the press in Tokyo on September 3, 2021 – AFP

“I want to focus on the efforts against the coronavirus and with that in mind I will not be running for election” for the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), Yoshihide Suga said after a meeting with the executives of the political formation in power in the country and which he currently chairs.

Yoshihide Suga, 72, said he “realized” that he could not lead both the fight against Covid-19 and the campaign for his re-election at the top of the PLD. Yoshihide Suga had thought in recent days of various strategies to stay in his post, according to the local press, including a last minute reshuffle of his government and early parliamentary elections before the internal ballot of the PLD. But this last option had been badly received within the party, further weakening Yoshihide Suga, already very weakened after the defeat last month of one of his proteges in the municipal elections of Yokohama (southwest of Tokyo), his own. parliamentary stronghold.

– Record unpopularity –

The winner of the PLD election, scheduled for September 29, is due to lead the party to parliamentary elections this fall. As this nationalist right-wing party largely dominates Japanese political life, its leader is almost guaranteed to become Prime Minister.

Yoshihide Suga has so far been considered the internal frontrunner, despite his government’s record unpopularity in the polls, with just around 30% of favorable opinions. He has seen his popularity wane for months because of his much criticized handling of the pandemic, the spread of which remains worrying in Japan. The country has suffered since the end of June a record wave of Covid-19, with currently around 20,000 new daily cases.
His government has been slow to speed up vaccination and has established successive states of emergency in the country since early 2021. But this device, based on non-binding recommendations, seems less and less effective in containing infections and is tiring the population.

Yoshihide Suga is also very unpopular for his stubbornness in maintaining the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer, despite opposition from a clear majority of the Japanese.
“For the elected members of the PLD it is a relief not to have to campaign in the legislative elections under the banner of an unpopular prime minister,” said Tomoaki Iwai, professor of political science at Nihon University in Tokyo, questioned by the ‘AFP.

Yoshihide Suga “never really gave an impression of competence or showed empathy” towards people during the health crisis, added Corey Wallace, lecturer at the University of Kanagawa (southwest of Tokyo), specialist Japanese politics and international relations.

– Open succession –

Its withdrawal was also welcomed by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, whose Nikkei index jumped by more than 2% on Friday, investors hoping in particular for a new stimulus plan from the next government. Fumio Kishida, 64, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2012-2017) and already declared candidate for the election of the PLD, is now “favorite” because he is both “moderate and experienced”, according to Tomoaki Iwai.

However Taro Kono, 58, current Minister of Administrative Reform and responsible for steering the national vaccination campaign, has also decided to run for the presidency of the PLD, several Japanese media announced on Friday.

Two former female ministers, ultra-nationalist Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, reiterated their intention to enter the running on Friday, while former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba still hesitated, according to local media.

Originally from northern Japan, the son of a strawberry farmer and a teacher, Yoshihide Suga came to power in September 2020, having achieved consensus among the major factions of the PLD to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, of whom he was the faithful lieutenant. Shinzo Abe had abruptly resigned for health reasons.

During his brief term, beyond the fight against the pandemic, Yoshihide Suga maintained the policy of economic recovery that characterized his predecessor (the “Abenomics”), without upsetting the foreign policy of Japan, a close ally of the United States. increasingly suspicious of China.
Yoshihide Suga also set new, more ambitious environmental goals for Japan and pushed for the digital transformation of public administration.

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