TOKYO- Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will join the race to succeed his boss Shinzo Abe as prime minister, local media said, as the competition heats up to succeed Japan’s longest-serving leader.
Suga, a longtime lieutenant of Abe’s in a key supporting role, had denied interest in the top job but attracted attention with a series of interviews, to Reuters and other news organizations, in the days before Abe’s abrupt resignation for health reasons.
A Suga government would extend the fiscal and monetary stimulus that defined Abe’s nearly eight years in office.
Abe’s announcement on Friday, citing a worsening of a chronic illness, set the stage for a leadership election within his Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP president is virtually assured of being prime minister because of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.
Suga decided to join the LDP race judging that he should play a leading role, given expectations for his ability to manage crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Japan’s deepest postwar economic dive, Kyodo news agency said, citing an unnamed source.
Calls to Suga’s parliamentary office seeking comment on Sunday went unanswered.
Suga would join such candidates as former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 39, the son of charismatic former premier Junichiro Koizumi and considered a future premier, has decided not to run, but he would back Defence Minister Taro Kono if he joins the race, NHK said.
Former internal affairs minister Seiko Noda and former defense minister Tomomi Inada, who is known as a fiscal hawk, are interested in seeking to become Japan’s first female premier, media reported.
Calls to their offices went unanswered.
Suga, a self-made politician in a country of political dynasties, was chosen by Abe in 2012 for the pivotal role of chief cabinet secretary, acting as top government spokesman, coordinating policies and riding herd on bureaucrats.
“I’m thinking of running in the LDP leadership race. I’d like you to support me,” Suga told LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai in a secret meeting on Saturday, TV Tokyo reported.
It quoted Nikai as replying, “Please do your best,” which it said was a sign of his backing for Suga.