Japan's Suga wins party leadership race, headed for premiership

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga prepares to begin his Sept. 11 news conference

A powerful government adviser and spokesman, 71-year-old Suga is seen as promising stability and a continuation of Abe's policies.

"Let's build a shining Japan by overcoming the coronavirus crisis, with new LDP chief Suga at the helm", he added.

In his comments after winning the vote Monday, Suga highlighted his reputation as a self-made politician.

Born in 1948 to a strawberry farmer and a schoolteacher in rural Japan, Suga helped in the fields as a child and went on to enrol at the Hosei University in 1969. "Without any knowledge or blood ties, I launched into the world of politics, starting from zero - and have been able to become leader of the LDP, with all its traditions and history", said Suga, whose modest origins differ from many LDP lawmakers.

"Since there is a change of prime minister, I will venture the promotion of people who are fit to carry out my policies", he said, while expressing his intent to work toward launching a digital agency and tackle issues including revising the country's Constitution.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii said at a press conference, "There is no future in continuing the path of (Prime Minister) Abe's politics, which are clearly at an impasse".

Mr Suga, a rare Japanese leader with neither political blood nor faction affiliation, stressed in his victory speech that a political vacuum can not be allowed during a time of national crisis caused by Covid-19. One exception was in 2019, when Suga gained notoriety as well as the nickname "Uncle Reiwa", after unveiling the name of Japan's new imperial era.

The election was triggered by Abe's sudden announcement in late August that he would resign for health reasons.

Suga is "highly regarded for his adept management of Japan's complex bureaucracies", said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Media reports said early vote counting of local representatives Monday indicated Suga had an overwhelming lead over the two other contenders - former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

As expected, Suga told reporters Monday he will "inherit and facilitate" many of Abe's policies.

"It is important to rebuild the economy while also containing the coronavirus at the same time". The country's economic challenges have intensified because of the U.S.

Korea is this year's host country for the annual trilateral summit between China, Japan and Korea which is scheduled for November, and the Korean government is considering a variety of options for the event, including an in-person summit as well as a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ishiba, who is popular with the Japanese public but less so within his own party, won just 68 votes, with Kishida, who was once considered Abe's favoured successor, taking 89.

Suga will nearly certainly become prime minister when parliament votes Wednesday, since the LDP controls the majority of seats in Japan's lower house.

The expected victory in the party vote by Suga, now the chief Cabinet secretary, all but guarantees his election in a parliamentary vote because of the majority held by the Liberal Democrats' ruling coalition.

A general election must be called by October of next year.

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