Mr Suga, 71, who declared his candidacy for the party leadership at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, has been a central figure in Shinzo Abe’s government as chief secretary of the cabinet in the over the past eight years.
The party’s rapid convergence on Mr Suga, following Mr Abe’s decision last week to step down as prime minister due to health concerns, indicates he wants continuity as Japan pulls away. debate with the Covid-19 crisis.
“I will take Prime Minister Abe’s initiatives and do my best to move them forward,” Suga said. He said he would take responsibility for Abenomics, the prime minister’s economic program, and make no changes to the existing agreement between the government and the Bank of Japan.
Although Mr Suga is yet to win a vote among 535 PLD deputies and regional party leaders, to be held on September 14, endorsements from four of the party’s five largest factions give him a powerful advantage.
Mr Abe’s own Hosoda faction said they supported Mr Suga, as well as the factions of Taro Aso, the finance minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, the foreign minister, and Toshihiro Nikai, general secretary of the LDP. Together, the factions already declaring themselves for Mr. Suga number 264 members.
LDP politicians do not always vote in line with their faction – as semi-formal groupings within the party are known – but many have said they will do so on this occasion, in order to quickly replace Mr Abe and s ‘attack Covid-19.
Although Mr. Suga is closely related to Mr. Abe, he has a radically different background. While Mr Abe is a political prince, whose grandfather was prime minister, Mr Suga made his way from scratch.
Born in rural Akita Prefecture, he moved to Tokyo and paid for his own college education by working part time. He became a politician’s secretary and eventually entered local politics in Yokohama, before winning the Diet elections in 1996.
Mr Suga is known as a workaholic and his mastery of politics behind the scenes, picking and choosing the best bureaucrats and LDP candidates. It focuses on domestic issues, such as cutting electricity and cellphone bills, rather than the diplomatic maneuvers and conservative and nationalist causes for which Mr Abe is famous.
While Mr Suga is seen as a secure pair of hands, well suited to handling Covid-19, some backbench MPs wonder if he has the charisma and TV presence to act as the party’s electoral leader. .
The next leader will serve the remainder of Mr Abe’s term before another LDP election in the fall of 2021, when all party members can vote.
Whoever wins the leadership election will therefore be on probation. “It’s not that the party is now considering choosing someone else a year from now,” said one LDP politician who supports the chief cabinet secretary.
“If Mr. Suga attracts public support, the LDP will of course re-elect him. However, it depends on the results. “