Japan ruling party elects Yoshihide Suga as Abe's successor

Newsdeck Japan’s Suga wins party leadership race headed for premiership

By Reuters• 14 September 2020

There is some belief that Suga may only serve for the rest of Abe's term as prime minister, which was to end in September 2021.

Now, Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary and top government spokesman, appears on track to step into the prime minister's shoes after winning a decisive victory in the vote to lead the ruling LDP party.

Given his party's legislative majority, he is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote Wednesday and become prime minister, succeeding Abe, who is resigning for health reasons.

Abe, Japan's longest-serving premier, said last month that he would resign because of ill health, ending almost eight years in office.

Born in 1948 to a strawberry farmer and a schoolteacher in rural Japan, Suga helped in the fields as a child and went on to enrol at the Hosei University in 1969. "Without any knowledge or blood ties, I launched into the world of politics, starting from zero - and have been able to become leader of the LDP, with all its traditions and history".

"I recognize that I carry that mission", he added.

Suga has been a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe's first time as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. When Abe became prime minister again in 2012, Suga became chief cabinet secretary - a role that combines the duties of government spokesperson and chief of staff.

While during his days as a student, Suga showed little interest in the student protests against the security alliance between Japan and the USA and the Vietnam War, he gradually became interested in politics and successfully ran for the Yokohama city assembly in 1987 and entered national politics in 1996.

It was Suga who unveiled the much-awaited name for the era: Reiwa.

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Abe had declined to publicly endorse any candidate.

Suga is "highly regarded for his adept management of Japan's complex bureaucracies", said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The other contenders - former Foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba - received a combined 157 votes.

As expected, Suga told reporters Monday he will "inherit and facilitate" many of Abe's policies. The country's economic challenges have intensified because of the U.S. He also has defended scores of favoritism and cronyism scandals, saying that investigations into the cases were properly handled.

Suga gained the support of party heavyweights and their wing members early in the campaign on expectations that he would continue Abe's policies. Asked about the succession plan, Abe had said he will leave it up to the party and that he will not make any comments about the procedure.

A big screen in Osaka's Umeda commercial district shows Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga's election as Liberal Democratic Party president to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 14, 2020.

In a post-election press conference, Suga expressed his determination to push forward deregulation by including in his cabinet "reform-minded people who are found in various factions".

One key unknown is whether Suga will decide to call a snap general election to consolidate his position and avoid being seen as a caretaker facing a new vote in a year - when Abe's mandate would have ended.

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