TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga won a landslide victory in a ruling party leadership election on Monday, paving the way for him to replace outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan’s first change of leader in nearly eight years.
Abe is resigning because of poor health, ending his tenure as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. The winner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) election is virtually assured of becoming premier because of the LDP’s parliamentary majority.
Here is where Suga stands on key policies.
A longtime lieutenant of Abe, Suga aims to continue the incumbent’s hyper-easy monetary policy, stepped-up government spending and structural reforms, dubbed “Abenomics”.
Suga also plans to maintain Abe’s policy of prioritising economic growth over efforts to fix the country’s tattered finances.
He said on Sunday there was no limit to the amount of bonds the government can issue to support an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, and indicated he could look to a third extra budget to fight the economic downturn.
“Only when we have economic growth can we push through fiscal reform,” Suga said.
Suga has voiced his readiness to have the central bank take additional easing steps to protect jobs.
Asked if he would keep Finance Minister Taro Aso in his post, Suga said on Monday Aso was a pillar of the current cabinet, but that he had not decided whether to ask Aso to stay on.
Suga opposes lowering the 10% sales tax rate. Some lawmakers have proposed cutting the tax to reduce the burden of the pandemic on households.
A son of a farmer from northern Japan, Suga counts the revitalisation of the regional economy as one of his key priorities.
Suga favours greater consolidation of regional banks, has demanded that mobile phone carriers cut fees, and plans to appoint reform-minded individuals to cabinet posts.
“I want to push ahead thoroughly with regulatory reforms,” he said on Monday.
Suga aims to form an agency to promote the government’s digital strategies under one roof and said in a recent newspaper interview that he would look into a possible overhaul of the health ministry.
He urges companies to set hiring targets to help women’s advancement in society, and proposes insurance coverage for fertility treatment as the country faces sharp depopulation.
Suga regards Japan’s alliance with the United States as the mainstay of Tokyo’s diplomacy and security, and seeks stable ties with neighbouring countries including China.
Suga has said he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with no preconditions to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago.
He is for revising the U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution, a much cherished goal of Abe that ultimately eluded the outgoing prime minister.
Asked about his position on Japan possibly acquiring the capability to strike enemy targets last week, he said he would first observe ruling party debate, without specifying where he stands on the issue.
Suga on Saturday defended his experience in diplomacy, an area where experts say his resume is rather thin, by saying he has been involved in all the major foreign policy decisions under Abe.
CORONAVIRUS AND BEYOND
Suga aims to boost coronavirus testing capacity and secure enough vaccine for Japan’s entire population by the middle of next year.
He sounded a cautious note on calling a snap election on Monday, saying preventing the spread of the coronavirus and reviving the economy would take priority in making any such decision.
In a recent interview with Reuters he said that Japan would do “whatever it takes” to ensure it could host the Olympics next year. The event was originally planned for this summer but postponed for a year due to the pandemic.
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Alex Richardson
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