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Japan’s Race For A New Leader

On Friday, September 3rd 2021, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga addressed the nation and announced his decision to step down from the government. A decision that is being termed as a “surprise move”, following months of struggle and turmoil as Suga took control after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned in a similar fashion.

Having seen an estimated 30% drop in his ratings, Suga struggled to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in Japan – one of the worst seen by the nation, directly impacting his support ahead of the general election later this year. Following his decision, Japan’s stocks instantly saw an increase, highlighting the public’s dissatisfaction with current leadership.

Fumio Kishida
Fumio Kishida

Yoshihide Suga overturned attempts of reelection as the leader of the Liberal democratic Party (LDP) – the largest ruling party in Japan, earlier this year. Leaving the LDP to elect a new leader to take on the role as prime minister, few candidates are in the running. Japan currently witnesses grave uncertainty over its leadership and the future, as the people hope for reform and stability.

Maintaining his position until the general election due on September 29th, Suga has withdrawn from most of his duties, leaving behind a large race for Japanese leadership. Japan’s minister incharge of the vaccine rollout, Taro Kano, is seemingly becoming the most popular candidate among the general public, however, no official statements or declarations have been made. At 58, Kano is the youngest candidate to be running for office and grew his popularity among the younger generations through the active use of social media. Claiming to carefully discuss his course of action with his colleagues, a formal statement confirming his candidacy is yet to be made.

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s foreign minister, has also declared himself as a contender for the role of prime minister. Having greatly criticized Prime Minister Suga’s pandemic response, Kishida has already urged for a ‘Stimulus Package’ to combat the effects of the pandemic, better the healthcare sector and stabilize the economy. As such promises emerge, the Japanese public grows increasingly content with Suga’s resignation.

Having initially gained support for his widespread promises, ranging from lower mobile phone rates to insurance for fertility treatments, Suga witnessed 74% support upon initial election, however, saw a rapid decline over the course of his one year term. Known for his shrewd approach to policy making and pushing through reforms, the public grew increasingly unhappy with his governance.

Yoshihide Suga’s COVID-19 response plan caused the greatest stir in the country. His decision to postpone the halting of foreign travel, vaccine rollout and economic compensation during the pandemic have been greatly criticised and blamed for the surge in cases.

Despite the uncertainty, projections suggest that the next leader will continue the rule of the LDP, as they continue to hold a parliamentary majority. Threatening to push Japan back into the loop of political instability as seen before Shinzo Abe’s eight year tenure, the ruling majority of the LDP allows for economic, domestic and foreign policies to remain largely unchanged – offering some consolation amidst a crisis.

Throughout the course of the unfolding of Suga’s decision, US President Biden has made his stance clear. Stating that “The US-Japan alliance is and will remain ironclad”, the US has declared that they would continually support the succeeding prime minister. Suga’s decision however, does leave the Quad grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United State, working as a counter to China, in a bed of uncertainty ahead of their meeting in later this year.


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