Yoshihide Suga has been elected as the new head of Japan’s ruling party, virtually guaranteeing him parliamentary election as the country’s next prime minister.
Mr Suga received 377 votes in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party election on Monday to pick a successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced last month that he would resign due to health problems.
Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, one of the other two contenders, received 89 votes, while former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba got 68.
The victory by Mr Suga, currently the chief Cabinet secretary of Mr Abe’s government, all but guarantees his election in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday because of the majority held by the Liberal Democrats’ ruling coalition.
Japan's next PM set to be Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga after ruling party picks him to succeed Shinzo Abe https://t.co/tOnRSilWpI
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) September 14, 2020
Mr Suga, the son of a farmer in northern Japan’s Akita prefecture, said he had come a long way.
“I will devote all of myself to work for the nation and the people,” he said in his victory speech.
He has said his top priorities are fighting the coronavirus and turning around a Japanese economy battered by the pandemic.
He has repeatedly noted achievements under the Abe-led government when asked about various policies.
Mr Suga had gained the support of party heavyweights and their wing members early in the campaign on expectations that he would continue Mr Abe’s policies.
That his victory appeared to be a done deal has raised criticism from inside and outside the party that the process is undemocratic and murky.
The closed-door politics also apparently led lawmakers to support Mr Suga in hopes of getting favourable party and Cabinet posts in the new administration.
“Now I’m handing the baton to new party leader Suga,” Mr Abe said after the vote. “We can count on him.”
Despite his low-key image as Mr Abe’s right-hand man, Mr Suga is actually known for his iron-fist approach to getting jobs done as a policy co-ordinator and influencing bureaucrats by using the centralised power of the prime minister’s office.
Mr Suga says that he is a reformist and that he has worked to achieve policies by breaking territorial barriers of bureaucracy.
He has credited himself for those efforts in achieving a booming foreign tourism industry in Japan, lowering mobile phone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.
Compared to his political skills at home, Mr Suga has hardly travelled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Mr Abe’s priorities.
In addition to the coronavirus and the economic fallout, Mr Suga stands to inherit several other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in the East China Sea.
And he will have to establish a good relationship with whoever wins the US presidential race.