Yoshihide Suga has been elected leader of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), paving the way for him to become the country’s next prime minister.
As expected, Suga easily won Monday’s internal vote to pick a successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced in August that he would step down due to health problems.
Currently the chief cabinet secretary, Suga took 377 of a total of 534 votes against the two other contenders, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
Given the LDP’s legislative majority, Suga is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote on Wednesday.
A powerful government adviser and spokesman, 71-year-old Suga is seen as promising stability and a continuation of Abe’s policies.
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He has specifically said his candidacy was motivated by a desire to continue the outgoing prime minister’s programmes.
Following his election as LDP leader, Suga thanked Abe and vowed to push ahead with reforms.
“I was born as the oldest son of a farmer in Akita,” Suga said. “Without any knowledge or blood ties, I launched into the world of politics, starting from zero – and have been able to become leader of the LDP, with all its traditions and history.”
“I will devote all of myself to work for Japan and its citizens,” he added.
Economic challenge ahead
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul said, that while Suga’s election was a “foregone conclusion”, his margin of victory among the LDP’s senior leaders was “impressive.”
Our correspondent said that Suga now faces the challenge of fixing the economy, which experienced a sharp decline due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown.
Ishiba, who is popular with the Japanese public but less so within his own party, won just 68 votes, with Kishida, who was once considered Abe’s favored successor, taking 89.
Abe, who smashed records as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister before being forced to resign after a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, declined to publicly endorse any candidate.
The son of a strawberry farmer, Suga was raised in Japan’s northern Akita region, and the issues of rural areas suffering depopulation are said to be among his top concerns.
But not much is known about his personal ideology, and he is generally viewed as an adherent of neither the LDP’s most hawkish nor its more reformist wings.
As prime minister, Suga is also seen as “stylistically” different from his predecessor, Abe, Al Jazeera’s McBride said.
He said that Suga is seen as “down to earth” and more pragmatic than Abe.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies