Yoshihide Suga set to become Japanese PM after ruling party vote

He will succeed Shinzo Abe after becoming leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Yoshihide Suga has been elected as the new head of Japan’s ruling party, virtually guaranteeing him a parliamentary election to become the country’s next prime minister.

Mr Suga received 377 votes in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party election to pick a successor to prime minister Shinzo Abe, who announced last month that he would resign due to health problems.

The other two contenders received a combined 157 votes. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida took 89 votes, while former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba received 68.
Shinzo Abe, presents his successor Mr Suga with flowers (AP)

Mr Suga, the son of a farmer in northern Japan’s Akita prefecture, said he had come a long way.

“I will devote all of myself to work for the nation and the people,” he said in his victory speech.

He has said his top priorities are fighting the coronavirus and turning around a Japanese economy battered by the pandemic.
Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, prime minister Shinzo Abe, cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba (AP)

Mr Suga had gained the support of party heavyweights early in the campaign upon expectations that he would continue Mr 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 also apparently led MPs to support Mr Suga in the hopes of taking favourable party and cabinet posts in his new government.

Mr Abe said, after the vote: “Now I’m handing the baton to new party leader Suga.

“We can count on him.”
Despite a low-key image as Shinzo Abe’s right-hand man, Mr Suga has a tough reputation for getting the job done (AP)

Mr Suga says that he is a reformist and that he has worked to achieve policies by breaking territorial barriers of bureaucracy.

He has credited himself for achieving a booming foreign tourism industry in Japan, lowering mobile phone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.

Compared to his political skills at home, Mr Suga has hardly travelled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Mr Abe’s priorities.

In addition to the coronavirus and the economic fallout, Mr Suga stands to inherit several other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in the East China Sea.

He also will have to 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 in November.