As widely expected, Abe’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga was elected new president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Because of the party’s majority in parliament, Suga is likely to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Elections will take place on Wednesday. Suga will then be in the office until the next scheduled elections in September 2021.
Critics argue that Suga lacks a vision for Japan and foreign policy experience. However, he was the best candidate to ensure continuity, Koichi Nakano, dean and professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, told the BBC.
It is generally expected that the 71-year-old will continue the economic policies of the Abe government. He himself recently said that he wants to continue and “enhance the Abenomics”. Furthermore, Suga has expressed his support for maintaining the easy monetary policy of the Governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda.
Difficult tasks for Yoshihide Suga
Suga takes over in difficult times: He has to steer Japan through the coronavirus crisis, increasing tensions with China and the outcome of the US presidential election in November. Critics argue that he lacks a vision for Japan and foreign policy experience.
Only recently, a statement of Suga on television caused a stir when he spoke out in favour of raising consumption tax above the current 10%. “When we think about the future, we have no choice but to pick up the pace again after we have carried out thorough administrative reforms”, said Suga. “No matter how hard we try, Japan’s population will shrink.”
Japan’s economy has been shaken by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and further tax increases seem out of place. “This view suggests that Suga has not learned from one of the biggest mistakes Abe made,” writes author and Japan journalist William Pesek in the Nikkei Asian Review. Abe’s government raised the consumption tax from 8% to 10% in October 2019. Critics see the shrinking of the Japanese economy as a result of this move.
However, on a press conference following his TV-comment the next day Suga backtracked saying that an increase in consumption tax would be unnecessary for another ten years or so.
The question remains whether Suga will leave his own mark on his premiership or continue as before. There is already speculation that Suga might call a snap election to strengthen his own position.
Who is Yoshihide Suga?
Suga grew up in the countryside on a farm in Akita Prefecture in northwest Japan. He studied law at the prestigious Hosei University in Tokyo. He entered politics at the age of 38 as a member of Yokohama City Council and was elected to the lower house of parliament at 47.
Since December 2012 Suga has been chief cabinet secretary. Suga already supported Abe in 2006, when he ran for the Prime Minister’s election. And the support continued also after Abe had resigned in 2007, plagued by scandals and illness.
Suga is known for his negotiating skills. One of his greatest accomplishments is seen as having pushed through visa liberalisations. On the one hand, visa relaxation has led to a massive boost in tourism, a key policy of Abe. On the other hand, visa liberalisation has opened the doors to unskilled foreign workers, thus strengthening the labour market.