As Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga has spent nearly eight years as the right-hand man for outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Now, as Suga prepares to take on the top job in the country in an all-out parliamentary vote on Wednesday, he will need to utilize his political dealmaking skills and insider knowledge of Japan’s complex bureaucracy to help him deal with the massive situation in the country. Challenges.
“Nobody has had a long time like Suga,” Kyaki Aburaki, managing director of BowerGroup Asia in Tokyo, told Al Jazeera. “He knows everything. He knows how the government works. He knows how sectarianism has prevented change in the past. This is a big gain for him.”
Suga, the 71-year-old son of strawberry farms, is set to take the lead at a time when the Japanese economy is being grappled with – after years of recession and already struggling with the long-term effects of the world’s elderly. A blow to the body by COVID-19.
The number of cases in Japan may be much lower than in many other countries, but the world’s third-largest economy shrank by a record 27.8 percent from April to June this year compared to the previous quarter due to pandemic-related lockdowns that were only eased in late May.
While the decline has increased pressure on the government to act – It was the third consecutive quarter of deflation in Japan – an astonishing level of public debt left policymakers with less room to maneuver.
“The financial situation is very dangerous now,” Tsuneo said Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “Coupled with COVID-19, I don’t think any future Japanese leader could enjoy the opportunity of such a major stimulus push.”
Abby the pro
Unlike his predecessors, Suga did not come from a privileged background and rose to the top of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party without belonging to any of his powerful factions.
As a front for the Abe government – he led regular press conferences as its main spokesperson – Suga cut a somewhat bleak figure, but is expected to forge ahead with his own initiatives including bureaucratic reform, digitization, and help rural communities in Japan through agricultural and tourism policies.
Fighting the Coronavirus will be a priority, but he also indicated a continuation A broad framework for Abenomics, the three-pronged strategy that was Aben’s signature policy and that included monetary easing, government spending, and structural reform.
These structural reforms were supposed to reduce the impact of population aging in Japan by making it easier for women to work, opening the door to immigrants and easing labor laws. Indeed, more than a quarter of Japanese are 65 or older, and by 2065, that number will increase to one in three, according to official projections. This means fewer people of working age and fewer taxes.
Japan’s deflationary: Coronavirus sends the economy into record contraction
“In order to overcome the crisis and give the Japanese people a sense of comfort, we need to succeed in what Prime Minister Abe is doing,” Suga said on Monday after winning the LDP leadership contest. “This is my mission.”
The new prime minister will also find challenges on the international stage.
Abe became the face of foreign policy during his time in office – establishing an unlikely relationship with United States President Donald Trump, reaching out to China, Russia and India, and centralizing decision-making within the Prime Minister’s Office.
But it also involved Suga, who has been assigned a key role in relation to US air bases on the southern island of Okinawa and who met US Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to Washington in May last year – a trip that has sparked speculation about him. Leadership ambitions.
Now a US election looms on the horizon and Sino-American relations have deteriorated further due to issues from trade to the events in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghur Muslims.
To complicate matters further, Suga Prefecture as party leader expires in September 2021 – and Japan must hold elections by October next year.
The Liberal Democratic Party, which rules in coalition with the smaller Komeito party, has had a two-thirds majority in the lower house, the lower house of Japan’s national parliament, since 2012..
While the ruling party is expected to win any competition, the opposition did indeed feel there was an opportunity to end the long-term dominance of the LDP. The merger of a new opposition force was announced on Tuesday.
“It’s easy for the opposition to attract people and if the economy is bad then people will believe it,” said Watanabe of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. “This is a big challenge for Shawqa because it will reduce his majority and maybe some in the party may challenge him.”
There is talk that Suga may choose to conduct a quick poll to take advantage of the recent surge in his popularity and avoid a clash with the late Tokyo Olympics COVID-19, now scheduled for July 2021.
And you’ll find on his mind the knowledge that periods of stable leadership in Japan have often been followed by a revolving door to weak and short-lived governments – most recently after the resignation of the hugely popular Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.
Koizumi’s departure first resulted in Abe resigning after less than a year in office due to poor health, and eventually the LDP lost power for only the second time since 1955 to the Democrats. It was only when Abe returned a second time – at Suga’s urging – that stability was restored.
Suga said that being outside the party factions is a strength, but it could also prove his weakness. Faction leaders can easily withdraw their support for his leadership if their demands are ignored, and a group of energetic politicians awaits if Suga fails.
The new prime minister will announce his cabinet upon taking office on Wednesday, and most of the ministers in the Abe administration are expected to keep their jobs.
But if Suga wants to maintain his popularity with his party and the public, he may have to project himself as more than just a regrouped Abe.
“If Abe’s time in office suggests anything to those who follow in his footsteps,” wrote Sheila Smith, a senior fellow in Japan, “it is that the Japanese people want stable government, but more than that, they want innovative and bold ideas going forward.” Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an analysis of Japanese policy after Abe. “In the post-Abe era, it will be important to satisfy this need for hope.”