The succession of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has entered its final phase with the announcement of the election of the new president of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) on Monday 14 September and the announcement on Wednesday 2 September, of the candidacy of Yoshihide Suga, head of the Prime Minister’s secretariat and government spokesman, promising to act ” without delay ” for “Restore the confidence of the population”. As the party has a majority in Parliament, its future leader will head the government.
Faithful lieutenant of the outgoing Prime Minister, whom he wants “Continue the action, going further”, Mr. Suga, 71, is favored by the press because of the support he enjoys from the most important factions of the PLD. Arguing the urgency to fill the political vacuum caused by the sudden resignation for health reasons, on August 28, of Mr. Abe who had not let emerge a clear successor – on purpose to maintain his authority until the end of his mandate in September 2021 -, the leadership of the majority party reduced the selection of his successor to a procedure “Simplified”, in the words of its secretary general Toshihiro Nikai, involving only parliamentarians and regional party delegates. The members will be able to express themselves but, according to the weighting of the votes chosen for this ballot, their vote will have no influence.
This procedure, admittedly provided for in case of emergency in the statutes of the PLD, serves another candidate, Shigeru Ishiba, former defense minister, who does not spare the criticisms against Shinzo Abe whom he faced in 2018 in the election at the head of the PLD. A position that earned him some popularity in the polls.
The third candidate, Fumio Kishida, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is running to take a date for a future succession because he does not have the slightest chance of being elected. Another potential candidate, Taro Kono, Minister of Defense, has declined to stand. With the official candidacy of Yoshihide Suga, the game seems to be over. Unless a twist, rare in Japanese politics.
Mr. Suga does not embody change but continuity and that is why he was chosen by the leaders of the PLD. Never having held a large portfolio (finance, foreign affairs), as is generally the case with contenders for the post of prime minister, and not belonging to a great political dynasty, this son of farmers from Tohoku (au north of the main island of Honshu) has for him to have been a mainstay of the Abe administration. He locked down communication and refocused decision-making on the Prime Minister’s office. In order to bring the senior officials who had greatly contributed to the downfall of previous cabinets to keep pace, he, through a legislative revision in 2014, submitted their appointments and careers to the approval of his secretariat. Sometimes allegiances weigh more than skills.
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