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Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to step down this month -- what went wrong and what's next?

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Only a year after he became the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga has decided to step down. Suga’s decision comes on the heels of his all-time low approval ratings following a rocky COVID-19 response and sinking public support, according to Reuters.

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to step down this month -- what went wrong and what's next?

Only a year after he became the Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga has decided to step down. Suga’s decision comes on the heels of his all-time low approval ratings following a rocky COVID-19 response and sinking public support, according to Reuters.

Currently under a state of emergency, Japan is struggling with its worst wave of the pandemic. The vaccination rollout in the country has also been slow and irregular.

The unpopular decision to host the Olympics amid the pandemic contributed to Suga’s shrinking support from the Japanese.

Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September, announced his decision during an emergency meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), according to the general secretary of the party, Toshihiro Nikai.

"Today at the executive meeting,

"Honestly, I'm surprised. It's truly regrettable. He did his best but after careful consideration, he made this decision," he said.

Potential candidates for Prime Minister’s role

The current parliamentary majority party LDP will hold an internal election on September 29 to pick its president, and the winner of the leadership election is expected to lead the country as Japan’s next PM.

There is no clear frontrunner at the moment but three potential candidates are expected to be on the leadership ballot.

Taro Kono

Taro Kono, former defence and foreign minister who has led Japan’s rocky inoculation drive, is high on the list of successors. He has not officially announced about throwing his hat in the ring but he is popular with young voters thanks to his savvy social-media strategy, which is a rarity among the older men who dominate Japanese politics.

According to his website, he also has a proposal for accepting foreign workers, which can address Japan’s shrinking workforce issue due to an ageing population. Japan has been historically isolated and even today has very little public support for accepting immigrants.

Fumio Kishida

Hiroshima lawmaker Fumio Kishida announced his intention to run as a contender on Thursday and also critisized Suga’s policies for handling the pandemic. He also said that he supports a stimulus package for dealing with the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Shigeru Ishiba

A former defence minister, Shigeru Ishiba said that he will run if the “conditions and environment” are right, according to Reuters. He is a rare critic of former PM Shinzo Abe and his economic policies famously termed “Abenomics”. Ishiba claimed the policies benefitted stock-holders by making them rich and did very little for the workers of Japan.

Abenomics

Abenomics are a set of economic policies which were introduced by former PM Shinzo Abe when he came to power after his reelection in 2012. According to Investopedia, it was described as a three-pronged approach to increase money supply, undertake government spending and introduce a set of economic and regulatory policies to stimulate the Japanese economy.

Since Abe took power in 2012, the expected robust GDP growth and wage hikes did not happen. Five years after his reelection, the inflation rate was at 1 percent, which was significantly below the 2 percent target set in 2013 by Abe. In the same year, household spending dropped 0.1 percent and wages deceased by 0.2 percent, according to data from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Despite the aggressive money policy and flexible fiscal policy promoted by Abe, Japan faces economic challenges and the pandemic has further hurt the manufacturing and tourism sector.

 Current state of economy

In the short term, the outlook for the Japanese economy is bleak thanks to the global pandemic. It also does not help that tensions between China and Japan are escalating over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Exports have also dwindled due to a global sales slump and Japan’s reliance on auto sector --brands like Toyota and Honda have been affected by chip shortage – has impacted the economy.

Experts predict that its economy has the potential to improve, but growth will likely be slow.