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Yoshide Suga will become Japan’s next prime minister



TOKYO – There are few real surprises in Japanese politics, but Yoshihide Suga’s rise to become the next prime minister wasn’t exactly foreordained.

The son of a strawberry farmer and teacher from rural northern Japan, Mr. Suga is one of the few prominent Japanese lawmakers not from an elite political family. Charisma is not the first – or even the second or third – word evoked by his public figure. At 71, he is even older than Shinzo Abe, who suddenly announced in late August that he would be stepping down as prime minister due to health problems.

What Mr. Suga, Mr. Abe’s longtime chief cabinet secretary, offers is continuity. He promised to pick up where Mr. Abe left off, a gesture that reassured the nation after a series of revolving prime ministers. And in Japan, where stability often outweighs ideology, Mr. Suga appealed to a traditional political establishment that resists change.

On Monday, Mr. Suga swept away the elections for the leadership of the Conservative Liberal Democratic Party – which has ruled Japan for all but four years since World War II – by securing him prime minister.

There are rumors that Mr. Suga could call early elections immediately after taking over the prime minister. If successful, it could solidify its popularity. If not, “maybe this is just an interim leader,” said Ken Hijino, a law professor at Kyoto University, “and he’ll show up with a surprise younger and more attractive face to go to the general election.”

When he decided to pursue the policy, in the absence of family ties, he asked the employment services center to introduce a Member of Parliament.

In 1975, Mr. Suga took up a job as the secretary of Hikosaburo Okonogi, a member of the House of Representatives in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city. Mr. Suga’s duties included buying cigarettes and parking cars.

He also quickly learned how to meet a constituency. At Mr. Suga’s wedding to his wife Mariko in 1980, according to Mr. Mori’s biography, a supporter of Mr. Okonogi said he bought shoes for Mr. Suga because he “put them on quickly” by going door to door to visit voters. in the district.

The Sugas had three children, but in a debate last week, Mr. Suga admitted he was rarely home while they were growing up.

In 1987, he ran for a seat on Yokohama City Council, where he became known as Yokohama’s “shadow” mayor. It helped develop transport links to the port and pushed to lower waiting lists in city nurseries.

“He has four eyes and four ears,” Koichi Fujishiro, former Yokohama city council chairman, said in a telephone interview. “He worked from morning to late at night.”

In 1996, Mr. Suga made the leap to national politics, winning a seat in the lower house of parliament. During Mr. Abe’s first, awkward period as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, Mr. Suga was minister of internal affairs and telecommunications. Even after Mr. Abe left office following a series of scandals, Mr. Suga remained loyal.

Mr. Abe rewarded that loyalty when he returned as prime minister in 2012 and chose Mr. Suga as his chief cabinet secretary. According to Kenya Matsuda, author of “Shadow Power: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga”, Mr. Suga urged Mr. Abe to focus on the economy rather than the nationalist agenda that had consumed his first term.

Last year, Mr. Suga took steps to get out of the shadows. When the The government has officially unveiled the name of the new era that marks the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, it was Mr. Suga who dramatically revealed a calligraphic rendition of the name, Reiwa, earning him the nickname “Uncle Reiwa”.

Mr. Suga also trumpeted his idea, a system that allows citizens to donate money to local governments in exchange for locally sourced gifts. Many small-town governments, however, have lost money by spending more on gifts like marbled Wagyu beef or shipments of fresh lobster than they raised in donations.

In foreign policy, Mr. Suga worked to fill the holes in his wallet. He visited Washington last year, the first chief cabinet secretary to make such a trip in three decades.

For Mr. Abe, personal diplomacy with President Trump was crucial. If Mr. Trump wins re-election, the question, said Ms. Solis, of the Brookings Institution, “is whether Suga can work the magic, or whether that was a Trump-Abe bromance not to be repeated again.”

Hikari Hida and Hisako Ueno contributed to the reports.


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