Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday that he will not seek re-election as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party at the end of September, and public broadcaster NHK reports he will then step down as prime minister. Suga, 72, took over as prime minister in September 2000 to finish out the term of Shinzo Abe, who resigned for health reasons.
The government's slow response to the surge of COVID-19's Delta variant and decision to hold the Tokyo Olympics sent Suga's approval ratings below 30 percent, even after the Olympics went off without any major problems and Japan won a record haul of medals.
The next prime minister will probably be whoever replaces Suga as head of the LDP, and likely contenders include former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, former government minister Sanae Takaichi, and Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations, The Wall Street Journal reports. There's also a slim chance the LDP could lose its parliamentary majority in elections to be held no later than Nov. 28.
Whoever leads Japan next "isn't likely to change basic policies such as the country's close alliance with the U.S," the Journal says, but Suga's early departure "raises the risk that the world's third-largest economy will fall into another period resembling the 1990s and 2006-12, when prime ministers changed nearly every year and the country's profile on the international stage withered."