On Sep. 16, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga was elected as the new Prime Minister of Japan, succeeding former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stepped down due to health concerns. Because of the amount of problems that Suga has been left with courtesy of Abe, his actions in the upcoming months have the potential to define Japan’s success, or lack thereof, for the early 21st century.
Before his election, Suga served as chief cabinet secretary under Abe for eight years. These two men hold exceptionally similar political views, and many people have speculated that this is the reason why Suga got elected. Despite their almost identical viewpoints, Suga immediately proposed the easing off of Abenomics, which Abe enacted in late 2012. Another action Suga has taken in terms of boosting Japan’s waning digital development is appointing Takuya Hrai to personally work on this technological dilemma.
Suga has already vowed to build off of Abe’s efforts in Japan-U.S. relations, which Abe began with President Donald Trump in the past two years. He also voiced his desire to create a stronger relationship with neighboring countries Russia and China.
According to the World Economic Forum, one of Suga’s greatest tasks will be to deal with Japan’s COVID-19 problem. Though Japan is not necessarily struggling in terms of the number of people dying from the coronavirus – 98 percent of citizens who contracted the virus recovered – many Japanese news outlets have been pressuring the government to give their citizens more key coronavirus-related news. Suga’s administration will most likely not solve this complication, as he holds the same views towards the media as Abe, who enacted these news regulations.
However, Suga has vowed to put the coronavirus response at the top of his list, stating that the “response to the coronavirus is the immediate priority.” One idea that Suga proposed during his service as cabinet secretary was for Japan to loosen restrictions on issuing visas in order to attract more tourists. The worldwide shutdown basically nullified this idea, so a total revoking of this regulation may follow if cases increase.
Another obstacle that Suga must quickly address is the internal tension within the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. While the support of the LDP’s major factions enabled Suga to become PM, he doesn’t belong to any specific LDP faction. According to the World Economic Forum, once he appoints his cabinet of LDP members, internal rivalries will be virtually inevitable.
One overarching setback that Suga faces is his familial status, which brings up the complicated Japanese idea of respect. While many former prime ministers, such as Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe, have come from prestigious political families, as the son of strawberry farmers, Suga comes from a much more modest middle-class background. Because of this, he enters his new role with a lower hand than other more reputable individuals, which will force him to work much harder to gain, or perhaps renew, the respect that he amassed during his time as cabinet secretary.
In order to get this much needed respect, as well as to consolidate his standing with the public, a general election is expected to take place in the next few weeks. This will not only serve as a citizen check, but will also allow Suga to move forward with more radical economic policies. Aforementioned ideas such as opening up Japan’s mobile telecommunications and agricultural sectors to a wider set of companies are just some of the many concepts that Suga may unveil in the next few weeks.
Due to the many topics and problems that he is facing, Suga is already being tested. Virtually all eyes are on him, and his next few actions have the potential to shape Japan’s political, economic, and diplomatic structure and standing for a long time.
(Sources: Associated Press, World Economic Forum, New York Post, WorldoMeter)