Yoshihide Suga speaking at his regular news conference at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo, on September 14, 2020 Reuters   -  REUTERS

Japan: Suga wins ruling party race to replace Premier Abe


Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was elected leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party by an overwhelming majority, ushering in the country’s first change of prime minister in almost eight years.

The party, which has ruled mostly uninterrupted since 1955, was set to use its parliamentary majority to install Suga as prime minister in a separate vote Wednesday. Suga’s appointment will bring to an end the record run of his ailing boss, Shinzo Abe, who has served since 2012 and forged an identity on the global stage that the world’s third-largest economy had often lacked.

“I made a late decision to run, but before I knew it I was out in front,” Suga told supporters just before LDP lawmaker started voting. “I would like to create a government that’s trusted by the people.”

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A farmer’s son long known as Abe’s back-room fixer, Suga won 377 of the 535 available votes Monday, the LDP said. While Suga headed into a three-way race with little voter support, media polls show the public has also begun to swing behind him. His two rivals were former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba — known for his frank criticism of the Abe government — and ex-Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

Even before Suga declared his candidacy on September 2, he had the backing of five of the party’s seven factions and enough votes lined up to win. The only factions that didn’t back him were the ones led by the other contenders — Ishiba, with 19 members, and Kishida, with 47.

General election

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Taro Aso stoked speculation about an early general election, saying it could happen soon to legitimise the new administration, Kyodo News reported. While Suga has repeatedly said the public doesn’t want to go to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in support for the cabinet gave rise to ideas the new premier would call one in the near future.

Suga inherits an economy in a grim state as Covid-19 reverses many of the gains of the past few years, effectively closing down what had been a growing inbound tourism industry. He has pledged to fight the virus while helping businesses stay afloat.

Suga has said he will continue the ultra-easy Abenomics monetary policy. He has said that more should be done on monetary and fiscal policy, if needed, to protect jobs and companies during the virus crisis. Suga has said reviving the economy should be prioritised over tackling debt at this point.