Wed 16 September 2020:
Suga tapped as ruling party head following departure of former premier Shinzo Abe for health concerns
TOKYO – Japan’s parliament elected Yoshihide Suga as the country’s new prime minister on Wednesday.
Suga, a close confidante of outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Monday was elected to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
He won the votes of 314 members of the parliament out of the 465 total.
Suga’s term in office will continue until general elections in September 2021.
Abe’s sudden announcement of his resignation late last month triggered a leadership contest in the party as the outgoing prime minister undergoes serious health complications.
The ruling party enjoys a majority in the lower house — the House of Representatives — of the Japanese parliament, locally known as the Diet.
The party also holds a majority in the Diet’s upper house — the House of Councilors — along with its coalition partner, Komeito.
After announcing the members of his Cabinet, Suga will be formally inaugurated in a ceremony at the Imperial Palace and hold a press conference in the evening. His tenure will last through the remainder of Abe’s term as LDP leader until September 2021.
Suga will be the oldest prime minister to take office since Kiichi Miyazawa in 1991.
Mr Suga was born in a small village in the snowy north of Japan, the son of a strawberry farmer. According to a 2016 biography, he couldn’t wait to escape the rural backwater.
At 18 he left for Tokyo. There he worked in a cardboard factory saving to pay his own way through university. That sets Mr Suga apart from most of his predecessors, like Mr Abe, whose father was Japan’s foreign minister, and grandfather prime minister.
Mr Suga’s ‘origins’ story is a good one, but according to Professor Koichi Nakano from Tokyo’s Sophia University, it makes him extremely vulnerable in the sometimes vicious factional struggles inside Japan’s ruling party.
“Because Mr Suga comes from a humble background, he really doesn’t have his own power base,” he says.
“He doesn’t belong to any faction. He rose to power because he was Mr Abe’s preferred choice. And the party bosses rally behind him in an emergency situation. But once the emergency situation is gone and once the party bosses start to realise that they are not getting all they wanted, I’m sure there is going to be a power struggle.”
Aside from tackling the short-term economic damage the coronavirus has caused by forcing people to stay home and wiping out tourism from overseas, he will be tasked with stemming the country’s falling birthrate and improving its dismal fiscal health.
He has also vowed to continue with Abe’s push to amend the postwar Constitution by adding an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces and work toward securing the return of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
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