Campaign to succeed PM Abe as party leader begins in Japan

TOKYO (AP) — The official campaigning to head Japan’s ruling party began yesterday with the longtime right-hand man of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now seen as a top candidate and his likely successor to lead the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 71, formally submitted his candidacy for the Liberal Democratic Party leadership yesterday after announcing his intention to run last week. The top government spokesman faces two younger contenders, former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, both 63.

The winner of the in-party vote on September 14 will eventually become Japan’s next prime minister because of the ruling bloc’s parliamentary majority. Abe is stepping down for health reasons.

Suga is a latecomer favoured among party heavyweights as the best candidate to continue Abe’s policies and have reported lined up to support him in hopes of getting favourable party and Cabinet posts in his administration. Newspaper opinion surveys have also shown Suga surpassing the former favourite Ishiba among the public.

Suga pledged to carry out the challenges left by Abe, including measures on the coronavirus, the economic fallout and pursuing Japan-United States (US) security alliance.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, centre, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, right, and former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba, attend a speech session for the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership election at its headquarters in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

“I will succeed Prime Minister Abe’s policies and push them forward,” Suga said at a candidates’ speaking event. “As we face the national crisis, we should never allow any political vacuum, and there is no time to waste.”

The son of a farmer in the northern prefecture of Akita, Suga is a self-made politician, a rarity in Japan’s largely hereditary business of politics and particularly makes a sharp contrast to Abe, the political blue-blood whose grandfather was also a prime minister.

Suga said he has never lost affection for rural communities like his hometown and endeavoured to break down bureaucratic barriers to serve the need and interest of ordinary people, including in disaster prevention, lowering mobile phone fees and other policies.

Ishiba, who has long been seen as Abe’s rival, is vying for the party leadership for the fourth time, calling for a change to the ‘Abenomics’ economic measures to focus more support for small businesses and low-income earners as well as rural areas.