(Update 1: adds info)
By Agustin de Gracia and Yoko Kaneko
Tokyo, Sep 1 (efe-epa).- Japan’s ruling party on Tuesday decided to elect its new leader at a reduced convention, elevating the chances of current Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga succeeding Shinzo Abe as prime minister, and signifying a continuation of his predecessor’s policies.
The decision was taken at a session of the general council of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which under Abe’s leadership has been ruling Japan uninterruptedly since 2012 and which currently enjoys a comfortable majority in the Diet (Parliament).
This election for the top executive post is expected to take place on 14 September, according to political sources, although the date is expected to be confirmed by the LDP electoral committee on Wednesday. A few days later, the Diet will ratify the appointment of the new prime minister.
Tuesday’s decision was key to show the possibilities of the different candidates that have begun to emerge since Abe announced his resignation on Friday.
Currently, the front-runner is 71-year-old Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, who would likely stick to the policy path laid down by the outgoing prime minister to overcome political turbulence triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it has been generating on the economy.
Normally, the LDP elects its leader every three years, through voting by its legislators (currently 394) and equal number of representatives of the party’s bases, to form a general convention of 788 members.
The urgency in forming the government forced the LDP leadership to employ another system that has been used in the past: a reduced convention in which legislators and three representatives of the LDP branches in each prefecture — totaling 535 members — will vote.
Senior LDP member Shunichi Suzuki, addressing reporters on the decision adopted by the party on Tuesday, underlined that it was important to for someone to take up the mantle of government as soon as possible.
He said that there were many outstanding issues, such as the coronavirus, the economy, the budget and the start of the Diet session, and that if the decision were left to a general convention the election of a new prime minister would be delayed by a couple of months.
As Suga increases his chances of replacing Abe, the chances for party heavyweight and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 63, are growing slimmer. He had unsuccessfully tried to overthrow Abe from the LDP leadership three times in the past.
Ishiba, a strong critic of Abe, has greater support at the party’s base, and not so much among lawmakers. Hence, the chosen system represents a huge obstacle to him taking over the LDP leadership and the government.
Ishiba told a press conference that the LDP must be a democratic party, and must carry out its policies with great confidence, with a broad consensus and understanding of the people.
Suga is expected to formally announce his candidature for the top post on Wednesday. In recent hours he has held a series of meetings to garner support of his party members, but avoided discussing the matter when asked about it during his routine press conference on Tuesday.
At the moment, according to political sources cited by the local Kyodo agency, Suga has the support of the LDP’s two most powerful factions along with a third one, guaranteeing 199 of the 535 votes to be cast. More people are expected to back him in the coming hours.
The next prime minister will be elected at a Diet session expected to be held between 16-18 September. He will hold the position at least until September 2021, when Abe original term at the helm of the LDP was set to expire. EFE-EPA