Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, will no longer be the figurehead of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the head of the Japanese legislature. As a result, in practice, the 72-year-old conservative politician also renounces the chance to remain prime minister of the world’s third-largest economy.
The announcement that he will not seek re-election as head of the ruling party was made by Suga this Friday (3) in a surprise move, but with motivations that seem very clear. A year ago as prime minister, he was elected to complete the term of his predecessor and ally, Shinzo Abe, who resigned due to health problems. Once in office, he built an unpopular mandate.
In recent months, the prime minister has seen his approval ratings dehydrate — from 60% at the beginning of the year, to less than 30% — largely due to failures to combat the health crisis. Even the Olympics held in Tokyo were not capitalized on by Suga. Since the end of the competition, the Asian country has been experiencing a rise in infections driven by the delta variant, with the rise of serious cases and the overload of the medical system.
During his tenure, Suga ran a government of continuity, preserving most of Abe’s ministers and policies. The son of a teacher and a farmer, he is a law graduate and began his political career as a parliamentary advisor in Yokohama. He was elected a member of the municipal council and, years later, in 1996, he became a deputy for the same city.
Suga played a decisive role in Abe’s return to power in 2012, following the failure of his first term as head of government in 2006 and 2007. The then prime minister rewarded him with the nomination to the strategic post of secretary general of the government, in which Suga assumed the role of policy coordinator between ministries and various state agencies, earning him a reputation as a good strategist.
It is still unclear who should replace him at the head of the ruling party — internal elections will start on the 17th of this month and will be concluded on the 29th. of the seats belong to the LDP, and then it will lead the acronym in a general election due to be held by the end of November.
Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was the only declared candidate. When his intention announcement was made, the Japanese media reported that Suga intended to maneuver to dissolve the legislature, advance the general elections and postpone his party’s internal dispute, in order to remain in power. None of this, however, was done.
Below are some names quoted to replace Yoshihide Suga in the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party.
FUMIO KISHIDA, 64
A former chancellor and deputy from Hiroshima, he was considered the likely heir of Shinzo Abe, but he came in second in the internal vote for the party’s leadership, in large part due to his low ranking in polls.
Coming from a wing of the LDP that is more concerned about issues such as unemployment and economic performance, he called for a reduction in income disparities and pledged support for the lower classes when he announced his candidacy. He said he wanted the LDP to “listen to the people and offer broad options to protect Japanese democracy.”
SANAE TAKAICHI, 60
A disciple of Shinzo Abe and former minister of internal affairs, she has already spoken publicly about the goal of being the first woman in the office of prime minister. They propose police to reduce inflation by 2% and “prevent the leakage of confidential information to China”.
She belongs to the more conservative wing of the party and has already opposed allowing couples to keep different surnames, as advocated by Japanese feminist movements.
TARO KONO, 58
Responsible for launching the vaccination campaign in Japan, he served as minister of foreign affairs and defense and is close to the current prime minister, Yoshihide Suga.
SHIGERU ISHIBA, 64
A former defense minister, he usually ranks high in election polls, but is less popular among the party’s lawmakers. A critic of Shinzo Abe’s mandates, he has already defeated the former prime minister in some disputes. It has called for more spending on public works to reduce inequality.
He told a local broadcaster that Suga’s withdrawal from the race “completely changes the scenario, so now we have to think about our next steps.”
SEIKO NODA, 60
A critic of Shinzo Abe, she is a former minister of internal affairs. He tried to challenge the former prime minister in the race for the party’s presidency in 2015, but fell short of the 20 supporters needed to run. According to a local newspaper, he told party colleagues that he intends to try for a new leadership this year. Like Sanae Takaichi, he has more conservative stances on women’s rights.