Xinhua – Yoshihide Suga, the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was chosen as Japan’s new prime minister to succeed Shinzo Abe in an extraordinary parliamentary session on Wednesday.
The parliament formally chose Suga as the nation’s 99th prime minister in an extraordinary session convened in the afternoon.
Suga was elected by both chambers of Japan’s bicameral parliament, winning 314 votes in the more powerful 465-member lower house and 142 votes in the 245-member upper chamber.
Outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet resigned en masse in the morning ahead of Suga being selected as the nation’s next leader.
“I have spent every day putting my all into economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan’s interests,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office.
“It is my honor to have been able to work on a range of issues along with the people during this time. I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart,” Abe added.
Late last month and just days after becoming the nation’s longest-serving leader in terms of consecutive days in office, Abe abruptly announced that he planned to step down owing to the same intestinal disease, ulcerative colitis, that forced him to relinquish his role as the prime minister during his first stint in 2007.
Abe felt he could not fulfill his mandate as the prime minister owing to his ill health and in stepping down paved the way for his former right-hand man to succeed him as the ruling party’s president and the nation’s next leader.
The new prime minister, following his selection as the nation’s new premier, formed a cabinet comprised of a number of ministers who served under Abe in a bid to maintain continuity, a point he underscored as being paramount to his policy stance in the run-up to becoming the prime minister.
His new lineup sees health minister Katsunobu Kato picked as Chief Cabinet Secretary, a key post that functions as both a policy coordinator and the government’s top spokesman.
Kato is no stranger to the role, having previously served as deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary under Suga between 2012 and 2015.
Abe’s younger adoptive brother and a former senior vice foreign minister, Nobuo Kishi, was given his first cabinet portfolio as defense minister, taking over from Taro Kono who was tapped to serve as minister in charge of administrative reform.
LDP heavyweights that also served under Abe were retained in Suga’s cabinet, in interests of the party’s continuity, with these including Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi.
Fifteen of Suga’s picks for his 20-member cabinet held ministerial portfolios in the previous administration.
Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Olympics and Paralympics minister Seiko Hashimoto are the only female ministers Suga picked for his cabinet, despite the government’s previous push to promote more females to positions of power in businesses and politics.
Following his LDP leadership win, Suga said with reference to his new cabinet that it will comprise “reform-minded” people.
“I’ll create a cabinet that works for people,” Suga said, with reference to his planned reforms and deregulation.
“I want to create a government that people can trust. I will push ahead with deregulation and put an end to ministry sectionalism, endemic vested interests and the practice of blindly following past precedents. I will create a working cabinet,” he added.
A day earlier, Suga met with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi to ensure its junior ally’s continued support within the coalition paradigm. Along with Komeito, the LDP-led coalition dominates the parliament.
He also picked the ruling party’s executive lineup, predominantly tapping veteran lawmakers to assume top posts.
Most notably, Suga opted to retain the services of LDP heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai in the key post of secretary-general.
Hiroshi Moriyama, another LDP veteran, retained his post as Diet affairs committee chairperson.
Both Nikai and Moriyama provided the most support to Suga during his LDP presidential campaign.
Seiko Noda and Tamayo Marukawa, two females, were selected as the party’s executive acting secretary-general and head of its Public Relations Headquarters, respectively.
Both extremely capable lawmakers, the move to choose two females may have answered critics of the LDP election campaign that saw no female lawmakers enter the race.
With the exception of Noda, Suga filled the key posts in the new-look LDP executive leadership with veteran lawmakers from the five intraparty factions that supported him in winning the leadership race.
Now at the helm, Suga’s immediate focus is expected to be on reviving the battered economy while keeping the COVID-19 epidemic under control.
Suga is expected to utilize the 230-trillion-yen (2.2-trillion-U.S. dollar) package allocated for tackling the COVID-19 outbreak, while vowing to push forward with his predecessor’s policies.
These include the former prime minister’s “Abenomics” economic brand of aggressive monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reforms, to breathe life back into the spluttering and recession-hit world’s third largest economy, and repair its dire fiscal health which is the worst among industrialized nations.
Apart from dealing with the short-term economic damage the COVID-19 epidemic has caused by forcing people to stay home and sharply reducing tourism, Suga, 71, who will be the oldest prime minister to take office since Kiichi Miyazawa in 1991, will also be charged with tackling the nation’s demographic crisis.
This is comprised of a rapidly aging and simultaneously shrinking population, that has led to social welfare costs ballooning and weighing heavily on the government’s balance sheet, and the labor force being hollowed out.
Suga’s term as LDP president will be limited to the remainder of Abe’s current three-year term through September 2021, however speculation has been swirling recently that he may call a general election as early as next month to improve his chances of winning a full three-year term as LDP leader and capitalize on the party’s popularity, which tends to improve after a leadership change.
Two of Suga’s powerful supporters, Aso and Kono, have both hinted at a snap election being held soon with Aso saying that the next administration would likely face criticism for being formed without a public mandate.
Kono has made similar remarks, saying that he expects a general election in October.
Suga, however, has said that only when the COVID-19 pandemic has been brought under control would he think about dissolving the more powerful lower house of parliament for a snap election.
Suga was formally inaugurated at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Imperial Palace by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito.