NHK reported at noon that Prime Minister Suga announced at an extraordinary meeting of LDP executives this morning that he will not run in the LDP presidential election slated for Sept. 29 “in order to focus on measures to combat the new coronavirus.” Suga is expected to step down as prime minister when his term as LDP president ends at the end of this month. The network added that Suga also expressed his intention not to change the LDP leadership lineup on Sept. 6. LDP Secretary General Nikai told the press after the extraordinary meeting that he was surprised to hear the announcement but decided to respect the premier’s decision.
Suga told the press this afternoon: “For the past one year since I became prime minister, I have been putting all my effort into measures to combat the new coronavirus and other various issues Japan is facing. The [campaign for the] LDP presidential election will begin on Sept. 17. While I was planning to run in the election, I realized that an enormous amount of energy will be required to combat COVID-19 while campaigning. I decided that I would not be able to do both and had to choose one…. I decided that I should focus on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus as I have promised the public I would do many times. I will focus on the novel coronavirus as it is the responsibility of the prime minister to protect the lives and the livelihood of the public.” Suga reportedly added that he will hold another press conference next week.
Kyodo News reported that former Foreign Minister Kishida and former internal affairs minister Takaichi Sanae reiterated their intention on Friday to run in the party’s leadership election after PM Suga’s sudden withdrawal announcement. In addition to the statements by the two senior members of the LDP, Hakubun Shimomura, who had withdrawn from the Sept. 29 election after being urged by Suga to prioritize his work as the LDP policy chief in responding to the COVID-19, indicated he might re-enter the race. “The situation has changed. I will discuss (the matter) with my colleagues,” Shimomura reportedly said. According to Kyodo, Kishida said his intention to run remains “unchanged” after Suga made the surprise announcement earlier in the day. Takaichi, who would be the LDP’s first female president if elected, said she “will fight till the end” of the leadership race. She also said she was “appalled” at Suga’s flip-flopping on whether he would run, as he had repeatedly said he would seek re-election. “The remarks of the country’s top leader have changed every day,” Takaichi reportedly said.
TBS reported that Ishiba Shigeru, who has remained noncommittal about running in the LDP leadership race, told the network after Suga’s withdrawal announcement that “this is a totally new development” and said he will consult with his associates and reach a conclusion at an appropriate time.