Suga’s failure to win Olympics gives hope to rivals
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Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese Prime Minister, had a simple plan for the summer: stage the Tokyo Olympics despite the Covid-19 pandemic, ignite the public and ride a wave of medals to victory in the general election.
But despite an unprecedented 27 gold medals for Japan and a largely trouble-free Games, there has been no sign of an Olympic rebound for the prime minister, plunging Japan into political turmoil and uncertainty.
Suga’s term as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expires in September and a general election is due to be held by November 30, according to Japan’s constitution. But a steady drop in the prime minister’s polls has put him at increased risk of a challenge to the party leadership, analysts say.
A recent poll for the Asahi newspaper was one of many that showed Suga’s approval rating fell below 30%, which is widely viewed as a danger level. “Within the PLD, it creates the feeling that Suga cannot run an election,” said Atsuo Ito, political analyst and former party official.
The public seemed to have enjoyed the Olympics: 56% of Asahi poll voters said it was the right decision to go ahead with the Games. But they did not approve of the way Suga forced the event to happen, with 54% of them saying it did not unfold in a safe and secure manner.
The Games were held behind closed doors and there were relatively few cases of Covid-19 inside the so-called Olympic bubble, the effort to isolate competitors and officials associated with the event from the general public. . During the Games period, however, the number of cases in Japan tripled to more than 15,000 per day.
“It was a tournament organized with unprecedented constraints, but we fulfilled our responsibility as the host country and passed the baton to Paris,” Suga said in a statement. short video released this weekend, as he tried to claim credit for advancing. The French capital will host the next Summer Games in 2024.
The lack of spectators prevented the Prime Minister from positively associating with the Games. He hasn’t attended any events except the opening and closing ceremonies, and has yet to meet any of Japan’s gold medalists.
“A lot of people thought the Olympics were great and enjoyed them because of the great athletes and their performances,” said Mieko Nakabayashi, professor at Waseda University. “But they didn’t tie that directly to Mr. Suga’s leadership.”
A large majority disapprove of Suga’s handling of the pandemic and believe the vaccine rollout in Japan has been too slow, polls show.
The question for Suga is what to do now. In the prime minister’s ideal scenario, Ito said, he would call a general election in early September to anticipate a party leadership race. But the high level of Covid cases makes that difficult.
Suga’s electoral calendar
July 23-August 8
August 24 September 5
Tokyo Paralympic Games
End of Suga’s term as head of the PLD
21st of October
Deadline to dissolve the Lower House of the Diet
Last possible date for general elections
Sensing weakness, rivals began to signal their intention to run against Suga for the party leadership, dashing his hopes for an unchallenged election.
Sanae Takaichi, who held several ministerial posts under Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor, said she would run.
” I voted [for Suga] because he was the only candidate who pledged to stick to the policies of the Abe administration, ”she wrote in a magazine article. “However, the Abenomics’ second arrow – a nimble fiscal stimulus – was not executed properly.”
The Suga administration’s tax policies were sketchy and overly complicated, she added.
Takaichi will struggle to reach the 20 parliamentary nominations needed to run, but more dangerous rivals are weighing their chances, including Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, and former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba.
“Real potential leaders such as Kishida and Ishiba are wondering whether or not to enter,” Nakabayashi said. “This kind of politics is starting now.”
An alternative for Suga to an early general election is to try to delay the leadership elections due to the pandemic. This would save time to increase vaccination rates.
The prime minister’s strengths remain the same as when he was elected last September: there is no obvious alternative within the PLD and the Japanese opposition parties are weak. Even with an unpopular leader, the ruling party is the frontrunner to win this fall’s general election.
Nakabayashi said the wild card was a third party race. “They would have a huge chance because no one really supports the current parties,” she said. “People are so upset. There is a huge opportunity. Unless that kind of movement happens, the LDP will get away with it. “
Find all of our coverage of the Tokyo Olympics here