Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga makes an announcement on a large screen in Tokyo, 9 September 2021 (Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO via Reuters).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Japan has entered election season with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) presidential election on 29 September and the lower house election in late October or November. After succeeding Shinzo Abe less than one year ago, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on 3 September that he won’t contest the LDP election and will step down at the end of the month. The race for Japan’s next prime minister is wide open.

Suga’s downfall is a reminder that there is no escape from the public’s top priority of effectively handling COVID-19. His government’s pandemic policy has been characterised by missteps and poor communication with the public.

As Rikki Kersten explains in our lead article this week, Suga’s record on COVID-19 got off to a poor start when he… ‘forged ahead with the Go To Travel campaign which provided government subsidies for domestic travel to stimulate economic recovery. He was forced by spikes in infections to temporarily suspend the program on four occasions’.

On vaccines, Kersten explains, the report card for Suga was ‘must try harder’. Procurement ‘was slow and logistical obstacles held up the vaccine rollout’. Japan’s protectionist regulations required a local trial, which involved just 160 people, even though Pfizer had already conducted large-scale trials with tens of thousands of people.

Japan’s rollout eventually accelerated and over 49 per cent of the population are now fully vaccinated. But the public was frustrated as less than a quarter of the population were fully vaccinated when the Olympics began on 23 July and the prevalence of the Delta variant in Tokyo skyrocketed from about 20 per cent of cases in early July to almost 90 per cent in early August. As hospitals reached capacity, the government announced that only COVID-19 patients with … …continue reading