Suga, Abe’s longtime lieutenant in a key supporting role, had denied any interest in the high-level post, but had drawn attention with a series of interviews, to Reuters and other news outlets , in the days leading up to Abe’s abrupt resignation for health reasons.
A Suga government would extend the fiscal and monetary stimulus that defined Abe’s nearly eight-year term.
Abe’s announcement on Friday, citing a worsening chronic disease, paved the way for a leadership election for his Liberal Democratic Party. The PLD president is virtually guaranteed to be prime minister because of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.
Suga has decided to join the LDP race, believing he should take a leading role, given expectations about his ability to handle crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the deepest economic dive in the world. post-war Japan, Kyodo news agency said, citing an anonymous source.
Calls to Suga’s parliamentary office for comment on Sunday went unanswered.
Suga would join candidates such as former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 39, son of charismatic former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and considered a future prime minister, has decided not to run, but he would support Defense Minister Taro Kono’s he was joining the race, NHK said.
Former Home Affairs Minister Seiko Noda and former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, known as a fiscal hawk, are keen to become the first woman in power in Japan, media reported.
Calls to their offices went unanswered.
Suga, a self-taught politician in a land of political dynasties, was chosen by Abe in 2012 for the central role of chief cabinet secretary, acting as a government spokesperson, coordinating policies and straddling bureaucrats.
“I am thinking of participating in the leadership race of the LDP. I would like you to support me, ”Suga told LDP secretary general Toshihiro Nikai at a secret meeting on Saturday, TV Tokyo reported.
Nikai’s faction will likely support Suga if he comes forward, Takeo Kawamura, a senior faction official, told reporters after a meeting of group leaders.
“Everyone wants to be on the winning side, so if Nikai supports Suga, they’ll jump on the bandwagon,” said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University.
The LDP heavyweights aim to hold a lean leadership race around September 13-15, state broadcaster NHK said on Sunday. The party will likely decide on the scaled-down version on Tuesday, Kawamura said.
Usually, a leadership vote is held by LDP members of parliament with grassroots party members in a one-month process. But in the event of sudden resignation, an extraordinary vote can be called with participants limited to deputies and representatives of local sections of the PLD.
The scaled-down version could put Ishiba, a longtime critic of Abe, who promotes stimulating regional economies in the depopulated hinterland of Japan at a disadvantage. He is popular with the public but less among party members.
A call to his parliamentary office went unanswered.
Suga ranks low in the election polls for the next favorite prime minister. He projects the image of an operator behind the scenes, more than a frontline leader, so some analysts doubt it is best to lead the LDP in a general election due to be held by the end October 2021.
LDP factions will play a dominant role in the election, Sophia’s Nakano said. There could be media criticism that this is not a real contest, which could give Ishiba a boost, but “not enough to change the momentum,” he said.
Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Yoshifumi Takemoto; Edited by William Mallard
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