Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to step down

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday announced that he would be stepping down from his position as his approval ratings continued to fall due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Suga, 72, said he would not contest the ruling party's leadership race in a few weeks, ahead of the November general election, according to multiple reports. He told his colleagues during a party meeting that he would rather focus on coronavirus efforts than a reelection bid, according to The Washington Post.

Suga initially took the job after predecessor Shinzo Abe resigned amid health issues. He had served as chief Cabinet secretary and the main spokesman in Abe’s administration since 2012, the Post noted.

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Suga's handling of the pandemic has been met with fierce criticism as the country has faced constant record-high case counts and daily averages. His approval ratings sank below 30 percent by the end of August, according to Yahoo! Japan.

Experts are saying his exit shows that he has lost confidence in the senior party figures. 

Younger members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said that they "cannot fight under Suga" in their own political campaigns, according to local media reports.

Suga said he decided to step down after debating whether to run a campaign while managing the pandemic. 

“Both require a lot of energy. ... So I felt I should focus on measures to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19,” he said at a press conference Friday, according to the Post. 

The party's leadership said they accepted Suga's decision. 

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“To be honest I am surprised, but I think he made the decision after thorough consideration. We believe that it is not appropriate for us to question him about it,” said Toshihiro Nikai, the party's secretary general. 

Suga's term finishes at the end of September.