The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is set to vote on Monday to replace him. Japan is not a presidential system – the country’s leader is elected by parliament, so the next LDP leader, whoever he is, should have an easy way out to become prime minister.
Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba are also running. If Suga is chosen, it marks the culmination of an incredible and improbable political career for a 71-year-old man.
Suga and Abe’s careers have been tied together for almost a decade since he became prime minister in 2012. Abe has emerged as the longest-serving leader in the country since the end of World War II.
Suga was Abe’s right – hand man all the time, serving as prime minister’s cabinet secretary, a role equivalent to a combination of chief of staff and press secretary.
But the two could not be more different stylistically. Abe is one of the leading political dynasties of Japan, an important asset in the party political system, which is worthy of genealogy. His father is a foreign minister and he belongs to two former prime ministers.
Suga is the son of a farmer who calls himself a practical, behind-the-scenes dealmaker. He grew up in rural Akita Prefecture and moved to Tokyo after high school. He worked for a series of odd jobs, including at a cardboard factory and another famous Sukiji fish market to save money for the university, attending part-time while he worked.
Suga, which punishes Japan’s salaried people after graduation, entered fast, but it did not continue. Politics shaped and influenced the world, which is exactly what he wanted to do.
So he decided to run for City Council in Yokohama. Despite his lack of connections and political experience, he overcame his umption and worked hard. According to the LDP, he campaigned door-to-door, visiting 300 homes a day and a total of 30,000 homes. By the time the election round up, he was wearing six pairs of shoes.
Suga’s rap has changed a bit since that campaign. Today he is known as a successful political operator, he can count on to get things done – qualities that made him a right-handed man to Abe.
He was an important ally in the Prime Minister’s efforts to create a series of economic policies known as “abenomics” – a combination of monetary stimulus, increased government spending and structural reforms intended to start Japan’s stagnant economy.
If elected prime minister, Suga will be seen as something of an “Abe alternative,” said Kazuto Suzuki, vice dean at Hakkaido University and a professor of international politics.
Suzuki said LDP members were trying to reduce Abe’s popularity after announcing his resignation; Abe approval ratings are already heading south. A poll by Mainichi, one of Japan’s largest newspapers before Abe’s resignation, found that 58.4% of those surveyed were not satisfied with managing the epidemic. And his approval rating dropped to 36%, the lowest level since 2012.
Brad Glosserman, an expert on Japanese politics, said, “He has never left the Abe Line or the LDP in general.”
“He’s got a very good story … He’s a very self – made man. However, the question is, how much personality does he have?” Glosserman, “Peak Japan: The End of Great Ideas.”
Major issues such as huge public debt and the aging population were large, and although Abe openly called for reforms for gender equality in the workplace, critics said he was unable to address the country’s gender gap or address issues that prevent high participation of women in the economy and politics.
As chief cabinet secretary, Suga was widely seen as a successful spokesperson because he was able to communicate without covering up the message or his boss. The same skill proves the problem in the top job, in which oratory and charisma are important attributes to convey the message to the people.
“No one really knows who this guy is. He worked hard behind the scenes,” Glossman said of Suga. “He has not yet developed and presented a picture to the Japanese people that they can rally back and support.”
The previous version of this story misrepresented the age of Yoshihide Suga. He is 71 years old.