Japanese cabinet chief secretary Yoshihide Suga, who appears to be on track to succeed his boss, Shinzo Abe, as prime minister, will likely face challenges in outshining his predecessor, and if he fails to win the ruling party's leadership election in 2021, it may lead to the return of a period of the so-called revolving door of Japanese prime ministers, analysts told Sputnik
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 01st September, 2020) Valentina Shvartsman - Japanese cabinet chief secretary Yoshihide Suga, who appears to be on track to succeed his boss, Shinzo Abe, as prime minister, will likely face challenges in outshining his predecessor, and if he fails to win the ruling party's leadership election in 2021, it may lead to the return of a period of the so-called revolving door of Japanese prime ministers, analysts told Sputnik.
As Japan's longest-serving prime minister, Abe shocked the country on Friday by announcing his decision to step down due to health problems caused by ulcerative colitis, a disease causing long-term inflammation and ulcers of the large intestine, which forced him to cut his first stint short back in 2007.
Observers have named several likely candidates to succeed Abe, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, hawkish former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, ex-foreign ministers Fumio Kishida and Taro Kono, as well as incumbent top diplomat Toshimitsu Motegi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko.
Following Abe's surprise announcement, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) decided on Tuesday that his successor would be elected without ordinary party members, with only 394 lawmakers and 141 representatives from the party's 47 prefectural branches set to cast a ballot in the decisive vote. That same day, Japan's public television channel NHK reported that Suga, who is expected to officially declare his intentions to run for the seat on Wednesday, has already secured backing by the largest factions within the ruling party, emerging as a major front-runner to succeed Abe.
Having served as chief cabinet secretary for more than seven years, Suga is very familiar with policy issues, Purnendra Jain, a professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Adelaide, told Sputnik.
"Surprisingly, he [Suga] does not belong to any of the factions and no past LDP prime minister came without faction affiliation. No comparison with Abe � unlike Abe who came from a political dynasty, the son of a farmer Suga is a self-made man-the typical rag-to-riches story," Jain said.
Abe's successor is set to serve only the remainder of his three-year term, with the next leadership election to be held by the end of September 2021. If Suga gets elected by the LDP as interim prime minister, his chances of keeping the post appear to be slim, Ra Mason, a lecturer in international relations and Japanese foreign policy at the East Anglia University, told Sputnik.
"I think you'd describe him as Abe's understudy more than anything. He is not a particularly charismatic character ... I think he will struggle to find support among the wider population in Japan that he needs to stay in power for long time and he is going to find it very difficult to come out of Abe's shadow," Mason said.
The expert noted that Suga was one of Abe's loyal "foot soldiers" and was one of few people Abe has not moved in repeated cabinet reshuffles.
"But he is not somebody that people were anticipating would be a serious candidate for long-term prime minister," he stressed.
"If Suga fails to perform well he will lose the next regular presidential election due in September 2021 and that will be the end of his political career triggering a revolving doors patterns of prime ministers which will be bad for Japan and for the world too," Jain warned.
Despite the reported solid backing by key LDP factions, Suga is falling behind Abe's archrival and former defense minister, Shigeru Ishiba, in popularity among the general public, recent opinion polls by Japan's Kyodo news agency showed.
"He must win the next general election due before October next year. To achieve that he will need to improve his image among voters beyond 'uncle Reiwa,' a nickname given to him after he unveiled the name of the new imperial era last year," Jain said.
"The fact that you can have somebody who very likely would not be elected as prime minister through popular support may well easily walk into prime minister's job has happened before. It happened with Taro Aso, who is a current deputy prime minister [and served as prime minister in 2008-2009] ... It highlights how dysfunctional in some ways the Japanese democracy is in terms of actually a person that the majority of the population or even the largest minority of the population would like in power," the expert said.
It may be hard for Suga to outshine Abe not only domestically, but in the international arena as well. As cabinet chief secretary and the government's main spokesman for Abe, Suga mostly focused on domestic and bureaucratic issues and appears to have smaller expertise in foreign affairs compared to his boss.
During his tenure as prime minister, Abe has managed to build a strong personal relationship with US President Donald Trump, who called him "the greatest Prime Minister in the history of Japan" after the resignation announcement, but it seems unlikely that Suga would be able to bond with Trump in a similar way, Mason noted.
"There are various reasons for that. One, I think, is just personality. I think Abe and Trump share not in any way a similar personality, but a similar kind of charismatic leadership role within their own countries. They are decisive people, people turn to love or hate them. Suga is a much more understated figure, I think, in a sense that somebody like Trump will eat him for breakfast a bit because he is unimpressive, he lacks any kind of real charisma, he lacks a clear sense of what foreign policy goals are," the researcher stressed.
"I think he will also struggle there because, again, people like Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are simply too experienced and too powerful as leaders within their own states and within the international arena that, I think, Suga is way out of his depth, particularly in that company," Mason said.
It appears, however, if elected, the politician will likely focus on addressing domestic problems rather than foreign affairs, given that the Japanese economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, which saw the cabinet's approval ratings fall over the past few months, hitting 36 percent in August.
"Essentially he is unlikely to change course soon after taking office. He will be focused on domestic matters - the coronavirus crisis, reinvigorating the economy and above all, he needs to significantly improve his popularity first before embarking on any new directions in diplomacy," Jain noted.