Yoshihide Suga wins landslide in Japanese leadership contest
Shinzo Abe’s closest ally set to become next prime minister after winning LDP raceby Robin Harding
Yoshihide Suga will be the next prime minister of Japan after winning a landslide victory in elections to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic party.
The 71-year-old, who has been at the centre of Japan’s government as chief cabinet secretary for the past eight years, will replace Shinzo Abe, who is stepping down because of ill health.
Having run explicitly on his record in the Abe administration, Mr Suga’s victory means continued support for monetary stimulus by the Bank of Japan and the closest possible security alliance with the US.
Mr Suga will become prime minister after a vote in the Diet on Wednesday.
“I am the son of a farmer from Akita,” Mr Suga declared. “I started from nothing, with no political connections, but the LDP, with all its history and traditions, has made me its leader. I think that’s a symbol of what Japan is as a democratic nation.”
Strong backing within the LDP will increase the chances of Mr Suga calling a snap general election for October to seek a popular mandate and let him form a durable administration.
“Whatever happens, there has to be a lower house election within the next year. If I’m blunt, it might be soon,” said Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister, at the weekend.
But Mr Suga sought to play down that expectation, saying it would be hard to call an election until Japan’s experts had declared the Covid-19 pandemic to be under control.
Mr Suga won 377 out of 534 votes in the LDP’s electoral college. The party’s policy chief Fumio Kishida took 89 and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba won 68.
The chief cabinet secretary won 288 out of 393 votes from LDP members of the Diet. He also won 89 out of the 141 cast by regional chapters, signalling strong backing from across the party. Mr Ishiba had been expected to perform well in the regional vote.
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Mr Suga is known as a workaholic and a master of backroom politics. He is credited with driving through some of Mr Abe’s most important domestic reforms, such as visa changes that created a boom in Chinese tourism.
He has less experience in international affairs. Mr Suga’s first priority will be to form a stable government that can get a grip on Japan’s response to Covid-19.
“What the public are calling for loudly is a solution to the coronavirus problem and revival of the economy,” said Mr Suga. He vowed to form a cabinet of ministers who back reform rather than rewarding the party factions who voted for him in the leadership election.
His victory in the LDP election entitles him to serve out the remaining year of Mr Abe’s three-year term as leader. Mr Suga will then face another leadership election next September, putting him under pressure to deliver early results.
“As a representative of our country, he is a man of pre-eminent political skill and ability to get things done,” said Hiroaki Nakanishi, head of the Keidanren business federation, who called on Mr Suga to push through a large-scale economic growth strategy, starting with digital policy.