Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will represent a continuation of Abe’s legacy

By James Moules

THE new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will ensure the continuation of his predecessor’s agenda, an expert has told Redaction Politics.

In September 2020, the long time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation from the post due to health reasons.

Abe is Japan’s longest serving premier, and his departure was seen as a surprise too many.

Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, was elected leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with a comfortable margin to be his successor.

Rise of Yoshihide Suga

Redaction Politics spoke to Dr Yuka Kobayashi of SOAS, University of London, who said that unlike other candidates for the post, Suga will ensure that Japan continues down Abe’s policy path.

Regarding Suga’s ascent to the top job, she said: “I think initially it was quite a surprise because he was not really seen as very charismatic character. He was really seen more as the bureaucratic type getting things done, but not really someone who would be prime minister.

“When it became clear that he was actually standing for the position, he was very strategic in the way that he negotiated with the various positions and divisions within the LDP to make sure that he was the favourite going in.”

Suga was elected leader of the LDP over Fumio Kishida and Shigeru Ishiba in a resounding victory, gaining 377 points in votes from members of the Diet and from prefectures.

Kishida and Ishiba got 89 and 68 respectively.

Dr Kobayashi continued: “The main reason why Suga got the role he did was because he wasn’t going to change anything that Abe had actually done in his eight years.

“It was very important for the Japanese to get somebody who was continuous.”

“There were the other contenders like Fumio Kishida and [Shigeru] Ishiba who were really more charismatic, but it was obvious that the continuation of the Abe leadership style was desired.

“Continuity was more important especially under Covid-19, rather than getting somebody who would do changes in this very short period.”

Nationalism and Japan’s pacifism

Shinzo Abe first assumed the office of Prime Minister of Japan in 2006, but resigned a year later for health reasons.

He later staged a political comeback and took the top job again in 2012.

Widely characterised as a Japanese nationalist, Abe was a member of the Nippon Kaigi – a conservative organisation that, among other ideals, calls for the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

Article 9 makes Japan a pacifist nation and prevents it from maintaining armed forces, although the nation does possess a de facto military through its Self-Defense Forces.

“I don’t really think much is going to change with Suga,” Dr Kobayashi said.

“He is very strategic and wants to have consensus and not ruffle any feathers.

“But strong leadership is necessary to change the something  like the constitution that’s been around since World War Two.

“You need someone a little bit more powerful and charismatic than Suga to get that underway .” 

Abe’s election legacy

Japan is expected to go to the polls towards the end of next year for a general election.

In the previous election in 2017, the LDP maintained its strong position, winning 284 seats out of 465.

Dr Kobayashi thinks that the party will chose to present a stronger character than Suga for the election.

She said: “Japan would probably choose somebody more charismatic. Not a second Abe, but somebody who would be able to bring in his own characteristics on domestic or international policy and somebody who has strong leadership.

“[Chinese President] Xi Jinping has been in power as long as Abe, he has that constant leadership style from the year 2012 and 2013 onwards.

“Japan will be looking for someone who can counter that.”

Featured Image: Office of the Prime Minister of Japan @WikimediaCommons

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