Japan ruling party elects Yoshihide Suga as PM choice

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s ruling party yesterday elected chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga as its new leader, making him all but certain to replace Shinzo Abe as the country’s next prime minister.

Suga easily won the ballot, taking 377 of a total of 534 valid votes from Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and regional representatives.

His rivals, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP Policy Chief Fumio Kishida, trailed far behind.

Given the LDP’s legislative majority, Suga is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote tomorrow and become prime minister, taking over from Abe, who is resigning for health reasons.

A powerful government advisor and spokesman, 71-year-old Suga is seen as promising stability and a continuation of Abe’s policies.

He has specifically said his candidacy was motivated by a desire to continue the outgoing prime minister’s programmes.

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 favoured 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.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reacts after he was elected as new head of Japan’s ruling party at the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP