Another Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, emerges from the curtain


TOKYO – There are few real surprises in Japanese politics, but the rise of Yoshihide Suga to become the next prime minister was not precisely foreseen.

Mr. Suga, the son of a strawberry grower and teacher from northern Japan, is one of the few leading Japanese legislators, not from an elite political family. Charisma is not the first or even the second or third word evoked by his public personality. At the age of 71, he is even older than Shinzo Abe, who suddenly declared himself at the end of August resigning Prime Minister on ill health.

What Mr Suga, the long-serving chief secretary of Mr Abe’s cabinet, is proposing is a continuity. He promised to continue where Mr. Abe ended. This gesture reassured the nation after a string of revolving door prime ministers. In Japan, where stability often outweighs ideology, Mr Suga has turned to a traditional political body that opposes change.

On Monday, Mr Suga held elections to the leadership of the Conservative Liberal Democrat Party, which ruled Japan all year except four years after World War II, giving him the post of prime minister.

With his decisive victory in the party contest that initially seemed wide open, Mr Suga demonstrated poor political skills, developed as a behind – the – scenes operator, having worked for almost eight years essentially as Mr Abe ‘s chief of staff and representative of the government.

“How quickly the speeches merged with Suga,” he said Mireya solis, director East Asian Policy Research Center Brookings Institute in Washington “shows its political prowess.”

However, his role as a shadow power in Japanese politics made him a bit ciphered.

In many ways, he looks like another in a long line of cozy Japanese politicians. The most interesting nugget that has appeared in recent news reports is the revelation that Mr. Suga, a sweet tooth with a sweet tooth, 100 situps begin and end each day. On him Website he says he likes river fishing and karate.

Basically, it was difficult to see Mr Suga’s vision for Japan or whether he could find new solutions to the country’s deep challenges.

“Usually politicians have at least an ideal facade of expression,” he said Megumi Naoi, An associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, saying he usually expects “policy statements about the” type of world I want to see. “

Despite nearly a quarter of a century in national politics, p. Suga “did not really present a very strong policy,” he said. Naoi.

Describing the years of his faithful adviser, Abe, Mr. Suga, who declined the request for an interview, promised to pursue some of the outgoing Prime Minister’s most precious goals. He is expected to continue to seek review The Pacifist Constitution of Japan and the return of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.

He also said he would roughly stick to the economic formula known as Mr Abe’s signature Abenomics, combining easy monetary policy, government spending and structural reform of industries such as agriculture.

How. Suga showed little sign of a new policy last week – a potential increase tax which has hampered consumer spending he retreated quickly.

With global turbulence due to coronavirus pandemic and emerging geopolitical threats in Asia, continuing the course may be what Japan needs.

“Japan is not a country with very frequent revolutionary reforms,” ​​he said Christina L. Davis, Director of the Harvard U.S. – Japan Relations Program. “Especially in times of crisis and uncertainty, being seen as a stable crisis manager can be an advantage.”

Mr Suga, even on the basis of the current situation, has also been a catalyst for significant change. He is credited for helping A. Abe move disputed security laws which allow the Japanese military, along with its allies, to join foreign combat missions. Mr Suga was also seen as a strong supporter of the bill passed two years ago, allowing a sharp increase in the number of foreigners allowed in Japan.

Other glances at his political hand sparked concern. Some critics argue that Mr. Suga was the architect of some of Mr. Abe’s more authoritarian impulses, including the consolidation of his power over Japan’s expanding bureaucracy and the use of tactics to silence criticism in the news media.

“I think Mr Suga is more dangerous than Mr Abe,” former Deputy Minister of Education Kihei Maekawa told The Sunday Mainichi.

When the prime minister was Mr Suga, Mr Maekawa predicted that “bureaucrats would be servants or act as a private army” in the prime minister’s office, “worse than in the Abe era.”

One of the most important questions is how long Mr. Suga will last. Whether he becomes interim leader or remains after the general election is likely to depend on his response to immediate challenges such as a pandemic, The Tokyo Olympics were postponed and rising tensions with China.

There are rumors that Mr Suga may announce an early election shortly after taking over as prime minister. If successful, he will be able to consolidate his popularity. If not, “maybe it’s just a temporary leader,” said Ken Hijin, a law professor at Kyoto University, “and they’ll come up with a younger, more attractive face to go to the general election.”

So far, the public supports Mr Suga, with more than 50 per cent of those polled in last week’s national poll. to be prime minister.

Although Japanese voters believe Mr. Suga and Mr. Abe are something of a couple, their family backgrounds are unlikely to be different. Mr. Abe is a third generation politician and grandson of the Prime Minister; Mr. Suga was extremely educated in the village of Akita Prefecture along with two older sisters and a younger brother.

“He was so quiet that no one paid attention to him,” said Hiroshi Kawai, a high school classmate who now works as a travel guide for Mr. Sugas hometown Yuzawa.

“We have proverbs like ‘great talents are slowly maturing’ and ‘a wise falcon hides his vouchers,'” he said in a telephone interview. Kawai. – I now realize that these words were created for Mr Sugai.

According to Isao Mori’s biography, Mr. Suga’s father offered to work on the family farm, but Mr. Suga decided to move to Tokyo. Prior to joining Hosei University, he worked in odd jobs, first at a cardboard company and then driving tower trucks at the old Tsukiji fish market.

When he decided to pursue politics in the absence of family ties, he asked the Career Services Center to introduce the Member.

1975 Mr Suga took up the post of secretary to Hikosaburo Okonogi, the second largest member of Japan’s Yokohama House of Representatives. Mr. Suga’s responsibilities included buying cigarettes and parking.

He also quickly learned how to satisfy the constituency. 1980 At Mr. Suga’s wedding with his wife Mariko, according to Mr. In Mori’s biography, a supporter of Mr. Okonogi said he bought shoes for Mr. Sugai because he “quickly took off” going door-to-door to visit. constituency.

Sugas had three sons, but in discussions last week, Mr Suga admitted that he is rarely at home as they grow up.

1987 He ran for city council in Yokohama, where he became known as the “shadow” mayor of Yokohama. He helped connect with the port and sought to reduce waiting lists at city day centers.

“He has four eyes and four ears,” Koichi Fujishiro, former chairman of Yokohama City Council, said in a telephone interview. – He worked from morning to late evening.

1996 Mr Suga made a leap into national politics and won a seat in the lower house of parliament. During his first term as Prime Minister in 2006-2007, Mr Suga served as Minister for the Interior and Telecommunications. Even after Mr Abe left the post after a string of scandals, Mr Suga remained loyal.

Mr. Abe rewarded that loyalty when in 2012. Returned as Prime Minister and elected Mr. Suga as Chief Cabinet Secretary. According to Kenyan Matsuda, author of the book The Power of Shadows: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Mr Suga called on Mr Abe to focus on the economy rather than the nationalist agenda that swallowed up his first term.

Last year, Mr. Suga took several steps to get out of the shadows. When the government officially unveiled the name of the new era marking from the throne of Emperor Naruhito to the throne, it was Mr. A suga who dramatically revealed a calligraphic rendition of the name “Reiwa” and earned a sober “uncle of Reiwa.”

Mr Suga also trumpeted his idea of ​​a system that allows citizens to donate money to local authorities in exchange for local gifts. But many small-town governments have lost money by spending more on gifts like marbled Wagyu beef or lots of fresh lobster than market victims.

Speaking of foreign policy, Mr. Suga tried to fill the gaps in his portfolio. Last year, he visited Washington, the first chief secretary of the cabinet to make such a trip in three decades.

Mr Abe’s personal diplomacy with President Trump was decisive. If Trump wins the re-election, Ms Solis of the Brookings Institution said, “Can Suga use magic, or will Trump and Abe be repeated?”

Hikari Hida and Hisako Ueno contributed.

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