Japan’s Yoshihide Suga, a long-time ally of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, won a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election today, paving the way for him to become prime minister in a parliamentary vote this week.
Suga, 71, who served in the powerful post of chief cabinet secretary during Abe’s nearly eight-year tenure, said he would pursue his predecessor’s “Abenomics” recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, government spending and reform and follow a diplomatic line centred on the US-Japan security alliance.
Suga received 377 votes in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party election to pick a successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The other two contenders received a combined 157 votes.
The outgoing prime minister had announced last month that he would resign due to health problems.
Suga gained the support of party heavyweights and their wing members early in the campaign on expectations that he would continue Abe’s policies. That his victory appears to be a done deal has raised criticism from inside and outside the party that the process is undemocratic and murky.
The closed-door politics apparently led lawmakers to support Suga in hopes of getting favourable party and cabinet posts in the new administration.
Suga said his top priorities were fighting the coronavirus and turning around an economy battered by the pandemic. He repeatedly cited the achievements under the Abe-led government when asked about various policies.
Despite his low-key image as Abe’s right-hand man, Suga is known for his iron-fist approach to getting jobs done as a policy coordinator and influencing bureaucrats by using the centralized power of the prime minister’s office.
Suga says that he is a reformist and that he has worked to achieve policies by breaking territorial barriers of bureaucracy. He credits himself for those efforts in achieving a booming foreign tourism industry in Japan, lowering cellphone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.
Compared to his political skills at home, Suga has hardly travelled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe’s priorities.
In addition to the coronavirus and the economic fallout, Suga stands to inherit several other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in the East China Sea. He will have to further decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, which were pushed back to next summer due to the coronavirus. And he will have to establish a good relationship with whoever wins the US presidential race.