Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks at a new conference at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo, on September 14, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Japan's Suga poised to win party race, headed for premiership

Yoshihide Suga, 71, is expected to get the bulk of votes from 394 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers


Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a longtime loyal aide of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was poised to win a ruling party leadership election on Monday, virtually ensuring that he replaces Abe this week in the nation's top job.

Mr. Suga, 71, who has said he would pursue Mr. Abe's key economic and foreign policies, is expected to get the bulk of votes from 394 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and is likely to win a majority of 141 votes from the party's local chapters.

Also read: PM Modi, Japan PM Shinzo Abe speak on phone after India and Japan sign logistics agreement

Mr. Suga was on track to win over 70% of the MPs' votes and was leading among local chapters, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The winner of the LDP race is virtually certain to be elected as Prime Minister in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday because of the LDP's majority in the lower house. He will serve out Mr. Abe's term as party leader through September 2021.

Also read: Shinzo Abe | Japan’s eternal Prime Minister

Mr. Abe, Japan's longest serving premier, said last month he would quit due to ill health, ending a nearly eight-year term.

Mr. Suga has said he would continue Mr. Abe's signature “Abenomics” strategy of hyper-easy monetary policy, government spending and reforms while juggling the problems of COVID-19 and a slumping economy, and confronting longer-term issues such as Japan's ageing population and low birthrate.

Also read: Analysis | Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister who raised Japan’s profile, deepened ties with India

Japanese manufacturers remained pessimistic for a 14th straight month in September, a Reuters poll showed, underlining the huge challenge the next leader faces.

Mr. Suga, whose resume is thin on diplomatic experience, faces geopolitical challenges such as building ties with the winner of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election and balancing concern over China's maritime aggressiveness with bilateral economic interdependence.

Speculation is simmering that Mr. Suga will call a snap election for parliament's lower house as soon as next month to boost his chances of winning a full three-year term as LDP chief next year. A vote for the lower chamber must be held by late October 2021.

Mr. Suga, the son of a strawberry farmer from northern Japan who got his start in politics as a local assemblyman, has since 2012 held the key post of chief cabinet secretary, acting as Abe's top government spokesman, coordinating policies and keeping bureaucrats in line.

He has the image as more of a behind-the-scenes operator than a frontline leader but rose in opinion polls after he announced his candidacy to succeed Abe. He won support from most LDP factions, outpacing his rivals including former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida.