Suga assumed the top role less than a year ago, after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, stepped down due to health issues last September.
His decision not to stand in the LDP leadership election on 29 September, follows a turbulent 11 months in office, during which he saw his support slump as Japan grappled with rising coronavirus infections and a slow vaccine rollout.
“Today at the board meeting, Prime Minister Suga said he is not running the party leader election since he would like to concentrate on Covid-19 measures,” LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters Friday.
The winner of the LDP leadership election is widely expected to become Prime Minister, owing to the party’s majority in the lower house. A general election is scheduled to take place later this year.
The 72-year-old made the announcement at an extraordinary board meeting at the party headquarters after 11:30 a.m. local time on Friday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.
Suga, who was considered a successful political operator with a reputation for being able to get things done, was elected LDP leader in September 2020, with about 70% of the votes.
His appointment was widely seen as an effort within the ruling party to promote an image of stability and continuity between Suga and outgoing leader Abe. The two men had worked closely together during Abe’s almost eight years in office, with Suga holding the position of chief cabinet secretary in Abe’s government.
However, Suga failed to fully emerge from his predecessor’s shadow. His handling of the pandemic, in particular, has faced widespread criticism, with opponents lambasting his government’s slow and indecisive response.
In December last year, Suga dismissed the need for a state of emergency, only to declare one for Tokyo and several other prefectures the next month. Before that, his administration encouraged domestic consumption with a much maligned “Go To” campaign, which gave Japanese citizens steep discounts to travel and eat at home. Experts have pointed to the campaign, which was eventually halted in December, as a likely driver in the spread of the virus across Japan.
Suga’s decision to push ahead with the Olympics, despite warnings from health officials — including the country’s top coronavirus adviser — was also widely unpopular, with polls showing that a majority of the public opposed holding a major sporting event during the pandemic.
Though the scaled-down Olympics went off without any major incidents, Covid-19 cases surged to record-levels this summer.
Numerous states of emergency, including in Tokyo, have negatively impacted businesses amid rising frustration over the apparent lack of a clear pathway out of the pandemic. Japan’s vaccine campaign has lagged behind other developed nations, seemingly held back by bureaucracy and logistical hurdles.
This is a breaking story more to follow.
CNN’s Selina Wang contributed to this report.