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Japan PM Yoshihide Suga to step down at end of September

Japan PM Yoshihide Suga to step down at end of September
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivers a speech during the memorial service for the war dead of World War II  in Tokyo on August 15. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday he won't run for his party's leadership later this month, effectively ending his tenure as prime minister after less than a year.

Suga's decision not to participate in the leadership race on Sept. 29 comes as he faces record low approval ratings, largely over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

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Suga's departure will leave the race for Japan's next prime minister wide open.

During a press conference on Friday afternoon, Suga told reporters he wanted to focus on managing the pandemic rather than running a re-election campaign. He said he will step down on Sept. 30.

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When former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced last month that he would run for leadership of Suga's governing Liberal Democratic Party, some believed Suga would aim to retain power.

The Liberal Democrats have held power in Japan since World War II, and the opposition has been in disarray for the last decade. Kishida was declared the only candidate this week.

Sanae Takaichi, a former communications minister, ha sexpressed interest in running, and Taro Kono, a former foreign and defense minister, is also mulling a run.

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Whoever wins the party's leadership race will likely be designated prime minister until a general election is held by late next month to determine a permanent successor.

Suga took office Sept. 16, when long-serving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned over health issues. The son of a strawberry farmer and schoolteacher from a rural part of the country, he's been seen as uncharismatic, and a malleable leader content with carrying out Abe's policies.

Public frustrations with Suga surged early this year when Japan took months to roll out its coronavirus vaccination program and continued related economic restrictions.

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Japan has recorded nearly 16,000 deaths during the pandemic and nearly 43% of its population is fully vaccinated.

Suga's departure threatens to throw Japan into the type of political instability that was common before Abe was elected in 2012. Before that, Japan had six prime ministers in six years.

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