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Commentary: We could have underestimated Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga

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SINGAPORE: Yoshihide Suga is formally now Japan’s subsequent prime minister changing Shinzo Abe, who resigned on account of well being causes.

In contrast to a lot of his Cupboard colleagues – a few of whom are potential future prime ministerial candidates – who could also be scions of former cupboard ministers, prime ministers and parliamentarians, the 71-year-old son of a strawberry farmer has been branded as an “unlikely chief” by the worldwide media.


Even his former boss, Abe, got here from a household with a political legacy. Abe’s father was a former overseas minister and grandfather a former prime minister. 

Shinjiro Koizumi, the Setting Minister, is the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. Taro Kono, the Defence Minister, is the son of former Speaker of the Home of Representatives Yohei Kono.

READ: Commentary: That uneasy feeling about Japan’s frontrunner for prime minister

READ: Commentary: Will replacing Abe leave Japan in limbo?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso’s mom is the daughter of iconic post-war former prime minister Yoshida Shigeru. 

Aso can also be a descendant of one in every of fashionable Japan’s founders Okubo Toshimichi, whereas his spouse is the daughter of former prime minister Zenko Suzuki and his sister, Princess Tomohito of Mikasa, is married into the Japanese Imperial household.

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso takes questions at the annual meetings of the Intern
FILE PHOTO: Japanese finance minister Taro Aso takes questions on the annual assembly of the Worldwide Financial Fund and World Financial institution in Washington, U.S., Oct. 18, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/File Photograph

All of those people have been destined for political workplaces, whereas Suga, clearly, was an outlier.

In distinction, Suga gave up the household enterprise of farming and have become an odd-job labourer, together with a cardboard manufacturing facility employee, safety guard, low-paying newsroom assistant and handbook work within the now-closed Tsukiji fish market to economize for college research. 

Such humble roots little doubt permit him to empathise with these within the working class in Japan who’re affected by the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide financial slowdown arising from the US-China commerce tensions.

His profile is a perfect match for connecting with people struggling in making an attempt international financial circumstances, who up to now have felt indifferent from the insurance policies of Japan’s political elite.

When Suga made up his thoughts to turn into a politician in Japan’s highly-competitive liberal democratic political system, the worldwide media reported that he visited a couple of hundred residences a day and tens of 1000’s in complete in his district in Yokohoma to canvas for votes, shortly sporting out a number of pairs of footwear within the course of.

Suga moved his manner up the political hierarchy regularly via sheer laborious work and dedication. 

The brand new prime minister is understood to have a strict and gruelling regime, beginning his day at 5am every day, which works on to incorporate a disciplined health schedule and typically packing as many as three dinner enterprise conferences per night time.  

He’s a self-made man, no princeling legacy, no aristocratic air, no political dynasties, only a no-frills affable “uncle” – Japanese youth have labelled him “Uncle Reiwa” affectionately after, in April 2019, he unveiled “Reiwa” because the title for the brand new Imperial period for Japan coinciding with Emperor Naruhito’s takeover.

READ: Commentary: Japan’s new emperor desires to convey a recent breeze to the throne

Suga was charged with unveiling the new imperial era in 2019, a job that earned him the affectionate
Suga was charged with unveiling the brand new imperial period in 2019, a job that earned him the affectionate nickname ‘Uncle Reiwa’ AFP/Kazuhiro NOGI

His understatedness and inscrutability could give him a broader attraction amongst the Japanese public than Abe who was a lightning rod for assaults by the opposition and the liberal press due to his robust and decisive management type. 


Critics nicknamed him an “Abe substitute” as some observers noticed him as a seat-warmer for the following prime minister, notably if the following elections could also be held subsequent 12 months.

READ: Commentary: Japan’s longest serving PM has run out of time on unfinished enterprise

However, within the context of Japanese socio-political tradition, on condition that Japanese leaders will not be anticipated to be intolerant strongmen or abrasive alpha leaders. 

Reasonably, the perfect Japanese chief is a consensus-builder – aggregating the pursuits of all stakeholders, mediating between completely different political factions and curiosity teams and responding to the socio-political pursuits of the Japanese mainstream society.

READ: Japan’s Suga vows to place progress forward of fiscal reform, alerts establishment of Abenomics

On this sense, Suga is a consensus-builder. His most up-to-date tenure because the Chief Cupboard Secretary – the longest in Japan’s historical past – provides him a holistic view of Japanese politics, its political elites and equipment.

Actually, he has already obtained essential consensus from political factions inside his celebration, together with the most important and strongest 98-member Hosoda faction led by former Chief Cupboard Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and of which Abe is a member.

He additionally has help from the 54-member Taro Aso faction, which, because the second-largest group, together with the Takeshita faction, throughout the Liberal Democratic Celebration (LDP), gives a primary majority.

Suga quickly garnered the support of several leading LDP factions, even before he officially
Suga shortly garnered the help of a number of main LDP factions, even earlier than he formally introduced his candidacy AFP/Charly TRIBALLEAU

Receiving the nod from each factions will even assist Suga get the help of massive enterprise and agricultural foyer teams they’re near, which may very well be vital to deal with the pandemic and financial progress. 

Some factions in Japan’s politics even have clear overseas coverage inclinations. Whereas some have an in depth rapport with the coverage networks in Washington, others, like LDP Secretary Common Toshihiro Nikai’s faction, have cultivated shut working relations with China. 

Having such ties would give Suga stronger help in overseas coverage issues and better leverage in steering Japan via tensions between each international locations.

Suga has constructed a repute as a quiet, results-oriented chief with a low profile, behind-the-scenes negotiating type who will get the job executed subtly with out a lot fanfare and self-promotion. 

The media has thus aptly nicknamed him a “problem-solver” and “veteran shadow energy”.


Solely these less-versed within the methods of Japanese politics will take into account Suga’s profile a weak point. 

Cautious of constructing sharp abrupt modifications, Japanese cultural inclinations dislike knee-jerk reactions and like incremental modifications to adapt to exterior shocks, which on this case are the pandemic and Sino-US tensions..

Since Suga is well-known as a coverage enforcer, some powerful critics additionally view him as an Abe-sycophant. However they might fail to know Japanese affinity for coverage continuity.

READ: Commentary: What number of occasions should Japan be urged to step up COVID-19 testing?

Furthermore, Abe’s insurance policies, although critiqued in Japan’s pluralistic and aggressive liberal democratic system, have put Japan in an advantageous place with manageable an infection numbers, comparatively low demise charges and a comparatively much less steep financial decline in comparison with its G7 friends in the intervening time. 

It’s also vital to notice that the standard of loyalty, generally known as chusei, is supremely vital in Japanese tradition.

But others who name him a “caretaker” prime minister, who has but to be examined in a nationwide election, fail to know that the Japanese political system is underpinned by a highly-effective and prestigious paperwork that enjoys broad political legitimacy with the individuals and retains issues chugging alongside, no matter prime ministerial modifications.

With a powerful paperwork behind him, Suga can concentrate on what he does finest – forging social, financial and political consensus amongst the Japanese individuals, establishments and organisations, as he mobilises Japanese assets to fight the present ongoing pandemic disaster.   

With Suga at its helm, Japan is in good palms to steer via a tough interval of an ongoing pandemic and ongoing financial challenges amid rapidly-worsening US-China commerce tensions. 

Dr Lim Tai Wei is Adjunct Senior Analysis Fellow on the East Asian Institute on the Nationwide College of Singapore.

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