TOKYO, Sep 14, 2020, ST. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the trusty right-hand man of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since December 2012, won comfortably in a ruling party leadership election on Monday (Sept 14), The Straits Times reported.
This means he will be the next prime minister after Mr Abe, Japan’s longest-serving leader, quit abruptly last month because of a flare-up of ulcerative colitis, a stress-induced chronic digestive ailment.
The Diet, as Japan’s Parliament is known, will convene on Wednesday for a three-day extraordinary session to inaugurate the new leader. Mr Suga is expected to name the top brass in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Tuesday, and his new Cabinet on Wednesday.
The son of strawberry farmers from north-east Akita prefecture, Mr Suga has enjoyed a surge in public support in recent weeks. He has presented himself as the best continuity candidate for political stability, stressing his experience of having been heavily involved in policymaking and bureaucratic matters since he was named chief cabinet secretary in December 2012, when Mr Abe took office.
While his resume on diplomatic issues is much thinner, the eight-term LDP lawmaker in Kanagawa prefecture, who got his start in national politics at the age of 47, has vowed to continue the diplomatic legacy of his predecessor, including advancing the security alliance with the United States.
Mr Suga inherits an economy in recession, as well as other pressing issues such as an ageing population and a low birth rate, exemplified by the fact that his own home town, Yuzawa city in Akita prefecture, is hollowing out. He will also have to confront geopolitical challenges, including rising tensions between the US and China.
Two senior LDP politicians – Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Defence Minister Taro Kono – have said in recent days that they expect the Diet to be dissolved for a snap election as soon as next month.
An election is not due until October next year, but the LDP is riding on a surge of support and Mr Suga, no doubt, will be keen to cement his leadership with a public mandate.
On Sunday, Mr Suga dodged a question on whether a snap poll is in the offing, only saying: “What the people want the most is to keep a balance between preventing further Covid-19 infections and promoting economic activities.”
Mr Suga, 71, on Monday picked up the bulk of the 535 votes, comprising 394 LDP lawmakers, who got one vote each, and 141 delegate votes from the 47 local prefecture chapters, with three votes each.
His two challengers were former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, 63, and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, 63.
While the LDP president has a term of three years, Mr Suga will only serve out the rest of Mr Abe’s tenure, which was to expire in September 2021, after which another party leadership vote will have to be called.