Yoshihide Suga, the choice of experience and continuity to succeed Shinzo Abe

Yoshihide Suga, winner Monday of the internal election of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) to replace Shinzo Abe, is a farmer’s son deemed impenetrable but who knew how to embody experience, pragmatism and political continuity to achieve consensus . The candidacy of this seasoned politician of 71 years was indeed supported by most of the major factions of the PLD for this internal ballot, which gives him wide access to the office of Prime Minister following a vote in Parliament on Wednesday . Long considered a potential successor to Shinzo Abe, Youshihide Suga, six years his senior, had regularly denied any ambition to reach the supreme office, before taking the plunge when his leader announced at the end of August his desire to leave the power for health reasons. He faithfully served and advised Shinzo Abe for years. He notably played a decisive role in his return to power at the end of 2012, after the failure of his first term as Prime Minister in 2006-2007. Shinzo Abe had rewarded him by appointing him secretary general of the government, a highly strategic post. Taking on the role of policy coordinator between ministries and the many state agencies, Youshihide Suga has earned a reputation as a skillful tactician, managing to bring the complex and powerful Japanese bureaucracy in line to execute key government policies. Yoshihide Suga has notably worked on easing restrictions on the work of foreigners in a country in need of manpower and carried out various initiatives, such as the establishment of a tax credit to support rural regions and reduction of tariffs for mobile operators. Simultaneously serving as government spokesperson, he had become the face of the Shinzo Abe administration, while showing little talk, and at times uninviting with journalists asking embarrassing questions. His rural origins, which he readily puts forward in his speeches, stand out within a PLD dominated by heirs of great political families. Son of a strawberry farmer and a teacher from the Akita region (north), Yoshihide Suga himself financed his studies in Tokyo by doing odd jobs, in a cardboard factory or as a handler at the large fish market. of the capital, according to its official website. After studying law, he quickly fell for the virus of politics. He worked as a parliamentary assistant to an elected official from Yokohama, then at the age of 28 became elected to the municipal council of this same large city, neighboring Tokyo. Nine years later, in 1996, he won a deputy seat for Yokohama, which he still holds. This married man and father of three children has so far remained very discreet about his private life, with a declared passion for ordinary leisure activities – particularly fishing and walking – and his abstinence from alcohol. Its public image, suffering from a certain lack of relief, was however fleshed out with the public opinion when it unveiled last year the name of the new imperial era of Japan before the whole nation. Since then he has been affectionately known as “Uncle Reiwa”. But the impression of stiffness that it gives off remains. “Yoshihide Suga is able to implement policies by controlling bureaucrats, but he is struggling to win hearts,” according to Makoto Iokibe, political scientist from Hyogo University (west) interviewed by AFP. The challenges awaiting the next prime minister are immense, from the management of the coronavirus crisis to the economic recovery of the country, which has fallen into a deep recession, to the often tortuous diplomatic relations with its Chinese and South Korean neighbors. On this last front, the restrained character of Yoshihide Suga could serve him: at the end of 2013, he had notably advised Shinzo Abe not to go to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, a very controversial place because it is accused of glorifying the Japanese militarist past. Shinzo Abe’s visit caused a scandal abroad, outraging China and South Korea and also angering Washington.


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