By Antonio Hermosin Gandul
Tokyo, Sep 14 (efe-epa).- Japan’s ruling party elected Yoshihide Suga as its new leader Monday, a preliminary step for him to become prime minister in the coming days, replacing Shinzo Abe, who resigned for health reasons.
As expected, the current chief cabinet secretary achieved a comfortable victory over his two rivals, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, in the internal elections of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Suga, 71, has been Abe’s right-hand man in the administration that began in 2012. He will lead the LDP until September 2021 to complete the term that Abe left incomplete due to his resignation, announced Aug. 28.
The new leader obtained 377 of the 535 votes that were at stake, which include those of the 394 legislators of the party and 141 of the local sections of that political group in the 47 prefectures of the country.
In the internal elections of the party, held at Tokyo’s Price Takanawa hotel, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida came in second place, with 89 votes, and third place went to Shigeru Ishiba, with 68 of the 534 votes cast.
Suga’s victory had been anticipated for several days, taking into account the support received from the different factions of the party.
The Diet (Parliament) will hold an extraordinary session on Wednesday to appoint the new prime minister, and is expected to ratify Suga because the party has a majority in the two legislative chambers.
Upon being declared the winner, Suga promised to continue Abe’s policies, expressed gratitude to his political mentor, and stressed that his priority will be to control the coronavirus pandemic.
In a message to the political leaders who elected him, Suga recalled that Abe had to resign for health reasons, due to chronic ulcerative colitis that he has suffered for decades, but said that it is necessary to continue with his work.
“A political vacuum cannot be tolerated amid the expansion of the coronavirus pandemic and the national crisis…. We must inherit and forge ahead with Prime Minister Abe’s efforts,” Suga said.
The LDP leader also recalled his humble origins of being born in a farming family in Akita, northern Japan, and underlined that he started his political career from scratch, something unusual in the Asian country.
The LDP’s internal elections included the party’s 394 parliamentarians and 141 delegates from all prefectures of the country, a reduced voting format from which party base representatives were excluded due to the urgency of electing a new party leader.
The assembly convened by the LDP lasted an hour and a half, during which participants, wearing masks, lined up before the ballot boxes to cast their votes.
The participants included Abe and Suga, as well as all Cabinet members and other contenders to the party leadership.
Shinzo Abe congratulated Suga on the election and recalled the times they have worked together in the government.
“I am proud to have been able to fight with all of you for seven years and eight months,” said Abe. “Our fight continues,” added the still prime minister of Japan before handing over the stage to his successor, whom he described as an appropriate person for the position.
While Suga is expected to continue until lower house completes its current term in September 2021, there is a possibility of him calling for early elections.
However, Suga has so far expressed little inclination for holding early elections due to the need to focus efforts on controlling the Covid-19 pandemic and promoting economic recovery caused by its impact. EFE-EPA