In a radical U-turn, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday announced that he would not stand for his party's leadership, effectively giving up the premiership, after facing severe criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, local media reported.
"I had planned to run, but dealing with both COVID-19 and the election would require an enormous amount of energy. I decided that there was no way to do both, that I had to choose," Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
"I decided to focus on coronavirus measures," Kyodo News Agency cited him as saying.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will hold its presidential polls to choose Suga's successor on Sept. 29. The prime minister is currently also the president of the party, with his term to end on Sept. 30.
Earlier, Suga had said he intended to run for a second term.
Suga rose to party leadership last year after the sudden resignation of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who stepped down as premier on health grounds.
The elections come at a time when Suga's public rating is down, largely due to his administration's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has battered the health and financial infrastructure of the world's third economy.
General elections are also around the corner in Japan as the term of parliament's lower house ends on Oct. 21.
Not standing for party leadership in Japan effectively also means that Suga will not hold the premier's post.
Suga addressed an extraordinary meeting of the LDP executives on Friday where he said he would "serve out his term through Sept. 30."
According to the prime minister's office, Japan has reported 1,524,679 COVID-19 cases, including 16,184 deaths, since the outbreak.