Newly elected head of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshihide Suga, poses for photos following his press conference at LDP's headquarters after the party's leadership election in Tokyo, Japan, Sept 14, 2020. (NICOLAS DATICHE / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
TOKYO - Japanese ruling party head Yoshihide Suga, in line to become the next prime minister, appeared set on Tuesday to continue his predecessor's policies by keeping key cabinet ministers and party officials in their posts, as he had promised.
Suga, long a loyal aide and chief cabinet secretary under outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Monday won a landslide victory to take over the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He pledged to carry on many of Abe's programs, including his signature "Abenomics" economic strategy.
Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are likely to stay in their positions, according to multiple media reports, as is LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai
He faces a vast array of challenges, including tackling COVID-19 while reviving a battered economy and dealing with a rapidly aging society in which nearly a third of the population is older than 65.
Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are likely to retain their posts in the new cabinet to be announced on Wednesday, according to multiple media reports. Yasutoshi Nishimura is likely to be reappointed as economy minister.
Defence Minister Taro Kono is seen becoming interior minister and Nobuo Kishi, an LDP lawmaker who is Abe's younger brother, will take up the defense portfolio, Kyodo news agency said.
Citing unnamed sources, Kyodo News said Suga had also decided to keep Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba and Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto in their current posts.
Toshihiro Nikai, who was instrumental in helping Suga cement the support of LDP members and was re-appointed as the party's secretary-general, said at a news conference that the top priority is dealing with the coronavirus, a view echoed by party policy chief Hakubun Shimomura.
"We will do everything we can to secure the vaccines and the medications to protect the people's lives and health, as well as support medical institutions," said Shimomura, a former education minister, adding that reviving the economy would be given nearly equal weight.
Suga may name Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, who has become well known to the public as the face of Japan's efforts to tackle the coronavirus, as chief cabinet secretary, Nippon TV said. Kato is close to Suga, under whom he served as deputy chief cabinet secretary.
Another former deputy, Koichi Hagiuda, is also being considered for the post, Nippon TV said.
"Many different elements are needed," Suga said on Monday, when asked about who should replace him. "One is their fit with the prime minister, but thinking about it overall, they also need to have broad strengths, that will be the most calming."
Suga is virtually certain to be elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday because of the LDP's lower-house majority. He will serve out Abe's term as party leader through September 2021.
Known more for his work behind the scenes, Suga emerged as favorite to replace Abe, Japan's longest-serving premier, after Abe said last month he would resign because of ill health, ending nearly eight years in office.
There is widespread speculation that Suga could take advantage of strong support ratings to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call a snap election to earn a full three-year term as LDP head, but he appears wary.
Aso said on Tuesday that thought should be given to an early dissolution of parliament given that the Olympic Games will be held in Japan next year.
"When to dissolve (parliament) is an extremely important thing for a cabinet... thinking about the premise that there will be the Olympic Games next year, I think that an early dissolution should be considered," Aso told reporters.
"What's important now is to contain the pandemic while also reviving the economy. I don't think we can immediately (dissolve the lower house) just because the pandemic is contained," Suga said Monday. "That's a decision that must be made looking comprehensively at various factors."
HONG KONG NEWS