Yoshihide Suga was elected as the new head of Japan’s ruling party on Monday. He is likely to become the country’s next prime minister when a parliamentary election is held later this week.
The 71-year-old Suga has been an important official in outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration. He served as the government’s spokesman and chief cabinet secretary.
Abe is resigning from the government because of health problems.
As leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Suga is expected to become the new prime minister with Wednesday’s vote. The LDP holds a majority in the parliament’s ruling coalition.
Suga received 377 votes in Monday’s vote easily defeating two other candidates.
Yoshihide Suga gestures as he is elected as new head of the ruling party at the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership election paving the way for him to replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in Tokyo, Japan September 14, 2020.
“Now I’m handing the baton to new LDP President Suga,” Abe said after the vote. “We can count on him.”
Suga is the son of a farmer in northern Japan’s Akita prefecture.
As a young man, he ignored tradition when he decided not to take over his parents farm in Northern Japan. He went to Tokyo where he became a successful politician. This is unusual in Japan, as politicians usually come from powerful families.
“I was born as the oldest son of a farmer in Akita," Suga said after Monday’s election. He added that he entered politics "starting from zero - and have been able to become leader of the LDP, with all its traditions and history."
He noted, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
Suga has been a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe’s first time as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. He has praised Abe’s diplomacy and economic policies when asked about what he would like to do as prime minister. He also has defended accusations of favoritism and cronyism in the government. He has said all accusations were fully investigated.
Suga is known for his bland comments during daily televised news conferences. In reality, he has a dictatorial approach to getting jobs done. He has often used the power of the prime minister’s office to influence career officials. Those who have opposed his policies have found themselves removed from projects or positions.
Suga gained the support of his party on expectations that he would continue Abe’s economic policy known as “Abenomics.” That is a policy of using government spending and readily available money to help the economy. He said the most important issues he faces are fighting the coronavirus and rebuilding Japan’s economy.
On foreign policy
While he is well known in Japan, Suga has rarely traveled internationally. He is expected to continue many of Abe’s foreign policies.
He has shown that he will continue pushing for changes in Japan’s pacifist constitution. He has also said that he supports regional efforts against China’s growing military power.
Earlier this month, Suga said he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions. He said he wanted to solve the issue of Japanese nationals captured by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s.
He also will have to decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympics. The games were pushed back to next summer because of the coronavirus. And he will have to build a relationship with whoever wins the U.S. presidential race.
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. Others think he will last longer.
I’m Susan Shand.
Words in This Story
prefecture – n. an area of jurisdiction and administration
baton - n. the small pipe passed from one runner to another in a relay
bland - adj. boring, without emphasis
cronyism – n. a type of corruption that includes hiring one's family members and friends
pacifist - adj. someone who is against war and violence
regional - adj. an area of land