LDP Leadership Election - September 2020
Japan's longest-serving prime minister, Abe Shinzo said 28 August 2020 he was resigning to avert problems for the government from a worsening health condition. The four-year term for Lower House lawmakers expires on 21 October 2021. Abe's consecutive days in office since returning to power in 2012 surpassed the record set by his great-uncle, Eisaku Sato.
The abrupt resignation of Japan's longest-serving prime ministe triggered an election in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to replace him as its president, followed by a vote in parliament to elect a new prime minister. Abe and his cabinet continued to run the government until a new premier is elected but will not be able to adopt new policies. The winner of the party election will hold the post until the end of Abe's LDP term in September 2021.
The new party president was virtually assured the premiership, since the party has a majority in parliament’s lower house. Usually, the party must announce the election for its leader a month in advance, and its members of parliament vote along with grassroots members. In case of a sudden resignation, however, an extraordinary vote can be called "at the soonest date possible" with participants narrowed to MPs and representatives of the party's local chapters. The LDP was considering holding the vote around 15 September.
The style for Japanese persons’ names is changing in English language radio and television broadcasts as well as websites. In principle, the surname comes first, followed by the given name, in accordance with the practice used in the Japanese language.
Abe’s potential successors in the LDP include Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida Fumio, who has indicated readiness to carry on Abe’s policies, and former Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru, who seeks change. Also seen as promising candidates are Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, Defense MinisterKono Taro and welfare minister Kato Katsunobu.
- Suga Yoshihide, 71, a self-made politician and loyal lieutenant since Abe's troubled term as prime minister in 2006 and 2007, was among a band of allies who pushed Abe to run again for the top post in 2012. Back in office, Abe tapped Suga as chief cabinet secretary, acting as top government spokesman, coordinating policies and keeping bureaucrats in line. Talk of Suga as a contender bubbled up in April 2019 after he unveiled the new imperial era name, Reiwa, for use on Japanese calendars after the enthronement of the new emperor. Suga said, "I vow to keep on pushing forward the policies of Prime Minister Abe. The top priority is coronavirus countermeasures. At all costs, I will stop an explosive spread like we saw in the US and Europe, and protect the lives and health of the people."
- Kishida Fumio, 63, LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson, served as foreign minister under Abe from 2012 to 2017, but diplomacy remained mainly in the prime minister's grip. Kishida said, "My commitment to continue working to become the next leader remains unchanged." The low-key legislator from Hiroshima has been widely seen as Abe's preferred successor but ranked low in voter surveys. Kishida hails from one of the party's more dovish factions and was seen as less eager to revise the post-war constitution's pacifist Article 9 than Abe, for whom it was a cherished goal. The BOJ's hyper-easy monetary policy "cannot go on forever", Kishida has said. Kishida said, "I will listen carefully, and turn the voices of the masses into political energy. Disparity and division have been growing in Japan and around the world. I will tackle this modern issue and foster cooperation."
- Ishiba Shigeru, a hawkish former defence minister and rare LDP critic of Abe, regularly tops surveys of legislators whom voters want to see as the next prime minister, but was less popular with the party's legislators. The soft-spoken security maven, aged 63 in 2020, has also held portfolios for agriculture and reviving local economies. He defeated Abe in the first round of a party presidential election in 2012, thanks to strong grassroots support, but lost in the second round when only members of Parliament could vote. Then, in a 2018 party leadership poll, Ishiba lost heavily to Abe. He has criticised the Bank of Japan's ultra-low interest rates for hurting regional banks and called for higher public works spending to remedy growing inequality. Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said, "What will the people of the country think? If it is my duty to meet their expectations, I cannot think in a self-serving way." Ishiba said, "I will once again devote myself to regional revitalization. I want to achieve a "great reset" -- to rewrite Japan's blueprint. Otherwise, our country won't be able to survive the next era."
Other candidates included:
- Minister of Finance Aso Taro, 79, who also doubles as deputy prime minister, has been a core member of Abe's administration. In 2008, Aso was elected LDP leader and hence, prime minister, in hopes that he could revive the long-dominant party's fortunes. Instead, the LDP was removed in an historic election defeat in 2009, languishing in the opposition for the next three years. Without a clear consensus on who should succeed Abe, LDP legislators could elect Aso as a temporary leader if Abe resigns. The grandson of a former prime minister, Aso mixes policy experience with a fondness for manga comics and a tendency towards gaffes.
- Kono Taro, 56, as Minister of Defense had a reputation of being a maverick but had toed the line on key Abe policies, including a stern stance in a feud with South Korea over wartime history. Educated at Georgetown University and a fluent English speaker, he previously served as foreign minister and minister for administrative reform. He has differentiated his conservative stances from those of his father, former chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, who authored a landmark 1993 apology to "comfort women", a euphemism for women forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels.
- Koizumi Shinjiro , 39, now environment minister and the son of charismatic former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, was often floated as a future prime minister, but many considered him too young. He shares some of Abe's conservative views and has paid his respects at Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead. Koizumi has projected a reforming image on the basis of efforts to cut Japan's backing for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but has typically taken care not to offend party elders.
- Kato Katsunobu, 64, as health minister was in the limelight in the early days of Japan's coronavirus outbreak but then economy minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, 57, a former trade official, emerged as point person on virus policy. In 2015, Kato, a father of four, was handed the portfolio for boosting Japan's rock-bottom birthrate, a task that met little success. He was a former official of the finance ministry.
- Noda Seiko, 59, had made no secret of her desire to become Japan's first female prime minister. An Abe critic, the former internal affairs minister, who also held the portfolio for women's empowerment, fell short of backing to join the race for party leader in 2018.
- Motegi Toshimitsu, 64, currently foreign minister, previously served as economy minister, facing off with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in tough negotiations. Motegi was trade minister under Abe when he returned to power in 2012, tackling talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. Educated at the University of Tokyo and Harvard, Motegi was first elected to the lower house in 1993 from the then-opposition Japan New Party. He joined the LDP in 1995.
- Tomomi Inada, Executive Acting Secretary-General of the LDP, had long expressed an ambition to run for the leadership, but she said on a TV program that the bar is set very high.
Yoshihide Suga won Japan's ruling party leadership race on 14 September 2020. With the top position, Suga is expected to become the country's prime minister in an upcoming parliamentary vote to be held on 16 September 2020. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) internal leadership vote went ahead to find Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's successor, who announced he was planning to step down due to health issues. Suga, who was formerly the chief Cabinet secretary and Abe's right-hand man, received 377 votes from party lawmakers and regional representatives out of a total of 534. He beat two contenders to the top post — former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. They received a combined 157 votes.
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