Abe’s resignation throws up many unknowns in election of successor

By Agustín de Gracia

Tokyo, Aug 29 (efe-epa).- Shinzo Abe’s resignation as Japan’s prime minister has triggered a complex process to appoint his successor that is full of unknowns because of the lack of a clear candidate to replace him as well as the ruling party’s murky leadership election process.

Abe, 65, on Friday announced his intention to step down as head of government due to health reasons but his resignation will only take effect when his successor is elected from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in an as yet undefined procedure.

LDP leaders held an emergency meeting hours after Abe’s intention to resign was confirmed on Friday, and the party’s secretary general, Toshihiro Nikai, was tasked with outlining the process.

But his proposals were postponed to a meeting of the LDP’s general council, where it will be decided not only when to vote on the new leader of the party who will become the next prime minister, but also how it will be done.

In statements to journalists after the emergency meeting, Nikai said that the views of the party members will be heard before deciding the next course of action.

Normally, the leader of the party is elected by an assembly composed of the party’s lawmakers, regional leaders and representatives of the members, who meet every three years to make the appointment.

But under the current circumstances, the party can adopt a shortcut, which involves selecting the prime ministerial candidate from among the party legislators and representatives from the country’s 47 prefectures.

The first option, although slower, is broader in terms of the political support that is needed. On the other hand, in the second option, lawmakers have more weight.

The second procedure was used in 2007 to appoint Abe’s successor when he resigned after a year in power because of ulcerative colitis – the same condition that has forced his resignation this time around.

Frontrunners for the post include the former Secretary General of the LDP and former Defense Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, 63.

Ishiba, who has attempted on three occasions, albeit unsuccessfully, to challenge Abe’s power, has made no secret of his intention to fight for the newly available post.

“It’s almost impossible for me not to stand in the election,” Ishiba said in remarks on TV on Friday night.

Ishiba is one of those in favor of choosing the party’s next leader using the system of maximum representation.

Another frontrunner is Fumio Kishida, 63, former foreign minister and the party’s policy chief, and one of the few who at some point was mentioned by Abe as a possible successor, albeit he enjoys scant support in the polls.

There is also Abe’s right-hand man since 2012 and top spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 71, who enjoys the support of many LDP lawmakers, and the 56-year-old Defense Minister and former Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

Whoever is eventually appointed, Abe’s successor will have to face significant challenges, including the coronavirus epidemic, which has badly affected the economy, and the erosion of Abe’s popularity after so many years in office.

A survey by the Asahi newspaper in July noted that only 24 percent of Japanese believed Abe was exercising effective leadership in the fight against Covid-19, while 66 percent thought he was failing.

This data “indicated that the administration, which had been drawing political power from strong public support, had totally lost its momentum,” Asahi said in an editorial on Saturday.

“The process of selecting Abe’s successor will be a crucial test for the LDP, which badly needs to rebuild its credibility with the public,” it added. EFE-EPA

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