Yoshihide Suga confirmed as Japan prime minister as Abe defends 'proud' legacy

Yoshihide Suga confirmed as Japan prime minister as Abe defends 'proud' legacy

MPs approve Suga as PM, as outgoing leader promises support for successor who vowed to continue his policies

Yoshihide Suga has been installed as Japan’s prime minister and promised a “reform-minded, hard-working” cabinet as the outgoing leader, Shinzo Abe, defended his record.

The 71-year-old Suga, who served as Abe’s right-hand man for almost eight years, has promised to leave economic policy largely unchanged as he attempts to steer Japan out of a deep recession and bring the coronavirus pandemic under control less than a year before Tokyo is hoping to host a postponed summer Olympics.

Displaying no emotion, Suga bowed deeply several times in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday as fellow Liberal Democratic party [LDP] MPs applauded. His appointment was later confirmed in the upper house.

Suga’s image as the Abe continuity choice was reinforced when he retained about half of the previous cabinet, leaving key roles such as foreign and finance minister unchanged. Just two of the 19 cabinet members are women, and their average age is 60.

In a reshuffle of senior positions in the LDP, Suga evenly allocated them to members of key factions to repay their support for his leadership bid.

There was representation, too, for the Abe family, with Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, appointed defence minister.

Abe, whose support was critical in ensuring Suga’s victory in the race to lead the governing party, entered the prime minister’s office on the last day of his tenure and thanked the people of Japan, vowing to support the incoming government as a regular MP.

Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, who retired on health grounds after almost eight years in office, said he was “proud” of his legacy.

“I devoted my body and soul for the economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interest every single day since we returned to power,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office before heading into his final cabinet meeting. “During this time, I was able to tackle various challenges together with the people, and I’m proud of myself.”

Suga, a self-made politician and the son of a strawberry farmer and teacher in the northern prefecture of Akita, has stressed his background in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities.

He has indicated he will pursue Abe’s three-pronged approach to the economy – combining fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms such as deregulation to steer the world’s third-biggest economy out of recession.

Suga will have to balance his focus on encouraging economic activity with addressing the coronavirus pandemic, amid cautious optimism that cases in Japan may have peaked.

On foreign policy, he is expected to continue Abe’s emphasis on Japan-US security ties while seeking better relations with an increasingly assertive China.

“Tough issues are mounting for the Suga cabinet,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo.

“The coronavirus is the top priority to tackle. On the diplomatic front, there are many uncertain factors, including the US presidential election.”

Suga has said he wants to push on with Japan’s difficult digital transformation, and has struck a chord with voters by challenging the country’s top three mobile phone carriers to lower their charges and open up to competition.

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