© REUTERS / Kim Kyung Hoon


Yoshihide Suga: What We Know About Frontrunner in Japan’s Prime Minister Race

Shinzo Abe announced his midterm resignation late last month, saying his chronic bowel condition had recently worsened and stood in the way of effective decision-making.


Japan’s governing party, the conservative Liberal Democrats, has elected current chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga as its new leader to succeed Shinzo Abe, with the move implying that he is almost certain to become the country's next prime minister. The national legislature will formally select the government head on Wednesday.

·         A veteran 71-year-old politician who holds a role in the current administration, Suga is expected to continue his predecessor’s policies and guarantee their continuity until the next election in 2021, as Abe announced he is stepping down due to health concerns.

·         Yoshihide Suga, the son of strawberry farmers, is viewed as a close ally and the right-hand man of Mr. Abe, and the only one to have his endorsement among the three contenders who had thrown their hats in the ring – the two others being Abe’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba.

·         It fell to Suga to officially unveil the new Reiwa era in the country, the current one in Japan’s calendar, which started on 1 May 2019, when Emperor Akihito's elder son, Naruhito, ascended the throne. Suga has since been jokingly referred to as "Uncle Reiwa".

·         Although he claimed the LDP leadership after Abe’s midterm resignation, it is not certain whether the official, who has the reputation of a pragmatic, rather than energetic, politician, will lead the party in next year’s general election. The party, as suggested by observers cited by the BBC, could move to put forward a more vibrant candidate to reach the maximum electorate for the next term.

·         Suga has been an essential ally in Abe’s bid to enact economic reforms known as “Abenomics”, which imply monetary stimulus, increased government spending and structural reforms meant to give a fresh start to Japan’s economy, which has been severely hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

·         A self-made man, Suga first dipped his toes in politics when he ran for city council in Yokohama soon after graduation from the university. Though he lacked connections and expertise, he made up for it with practicality and hard work. He campaigned door-to-door, visiting about 300 houses a day and 30,000 in total, according to the LDP. By the time the election approached, he had reportedly worn out six pairs of shoes.

In late August, Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving post-war Japanese prime minister, said he was resigning due to a chronic condition, saying he did not want his illness to get in the way of decision making, and apologising to the Japanese people for failing to complete his term. The 65-year-old politician has battled for many years ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease, which earlier also made him abruptly resign from a previous term as prime minister in 2007.