Who is Japan’s new prime minister?

Suga inherits a number major challenges. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Who is Japan’s new prime minister?

  • Yoshihide Suga, the 71-year-old son of a farmer, was a close ally of his predecessor, Abe Shinzo
  • Though he has played a key role in Japanese politics in recent years, Suga has few close ties with foreign leaders

Yoshihide Suga secured a majority of votes in the Japanese parliament on Wednesday to become his country’s 99th prime minister.

The 71-year-old leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had long been viewed as the front runner to succeed Abe Shinzo, who has been PM since 2012. Abe announced last month that he was stepping down because of health problems related to colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that he has been living with for some time.

Suga, who was officially elected leader of the LDP on Monday, has been Abe’s right-hand man for nearly a decade, serving as his cabinet secretary. His role became more high profile in April 2019 when he announced that the name of Japan’s new imperial era, which began the following month, would be “Reiwa,” meaning order and harmony. As a result, he earned the nickname “Uncle Reiwa” among the Japanese public.

He also helped Abe to implement “Abenomics,” a series of policies over the past eight years designed to improve the Japanese economy. He held twice-weekly press conferences and managed Japan’s complicated bureaucracy.

Suga inherits a number major challenges, including an economic crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He will also be expected to continue the work Abe has done to develop Japan’s foreign policy.

Internationally, he has few close relationships with other world leaders. He admitted during a recent press conference that it will be difficult to match his predecessor’s achievements in building personal relationships of trust with other leaders, but added that such trust-based relationships help countries to develop closer ties.

He is expected to follow Abe’s lead by adopting an objective view on foreign policy and cultivating good relations with Japan’s neighbors, including South and North Korea and China. It is thought he will also continue to strengthen Japan’s relationship with the US.

Despite a lack of relationships with Arab leaders, Suga is expected to maintain close ties with the region for a number of reasons, the most important of which is the oil imports that Japan relies on. Five Arab nations supplied about 95.2 percent of the oil imported by Japan in June, with Saudi Arabia alone shipping 22.9 million barrels, or 39.8 percent of the total.

Suga, who is the son of a strawberry farmer, is known to be pragmatic and a behind-the-scenes deal maker. He entered politics soon after graduating from Hosei University in Tokyo, when he ran for city council in Yokohama, the capital of Kanagawa prefecture. According to biographical information supplied by the LDP, the young Suga lacked any political connections or experience so he campaigned door-to-door, visiting about 300 homes a day — 30,000 in total. He is said to have worn out six pairs of shoes by election day.

Given his background, Suga has the image of a self-made man, in contrast to his predecessor, Abe, whose father was a foreign minister and so had connections to many foreign officials and leaders.

Abe and Suga became close allies over their shared views on the return of Japanese citizens who had been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s, and the latter supported the former throughout his time as prime minister.

Suga played a key role in some major international trade achievements along the way, including with the EU, and helped Abe open up Japan’s food market to more foreign products.

His own planned policy initiatives including a restructuring of major regional banks to help relieve their burdens of debt, and a reduction of mobile phone charges.

According to Japan’s Mainichi newspaper, Suga is a workaholic. His daily routine reportedly includes a 5 a.m. wake-up call, followed by an hour catching up with the daily news and then a 40-minute walk. He also does 100 sit-ups.

He is at his office by 9 a.m. and remains there until late in the evening. He then meets politicians or academics over dinner to discuss policies and get their views.

Outside of work, he likes to take his aides out for pancakes on occasion, as he is known for having a sweet tooth.

EU warns of slim window to avoid repeat of prior virus peak

Updated 7 min 24 sec ago

EU warns of slim window to avoid repeat of prior virus peak

BRUSSELS: European Union officials urged member nations Thursday to move quickly to slow the latest wave of COVID-19 infections to avoid a repeat of the broad lockdowns that paralyzed the continent’s economy in the spring.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the most recent risk assessment showed that some countries are reporting more cases now than they did during the earlier pandemic’s peak in Europe.
“We are at a decisive moment. All member states must be ready to roll out control measures, immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” Kyriakides said. “This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”
More than 3 million cases have been reported in Europe since the beginning of the year, including 187,509 deaths, according to figures from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
To control the virus’s rebound, several EU nations have imposed localized lockdowns, limited public and private gatherings again, and restricted the operation of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.
European Center for Disease Prevention and Control director Andrea Ammon, noting the social impact of such moves, noted the need to maintain basic precautions such as physical distancing and frequent hand washing.
“Until there is a safe and effective vaccine available, rapid identification, testing, and quarantine of high-risk contacts are some of the most effective measures to reduce transmission,” Ammon said.
Her agency said in its latest evaluation of the pandemic that the level of immunity in the European population remains low, estimating it is under 15% in most of the EU and the UK
“Most of the people can still be infected,” Ammon said.
The ECDC said EU countries should emphasize curbing the spread of the virus among children and adults under age 50, making sure the public is aware that people in those categories can become seriously ill from COVID-19 as well as expose more vulnerable populations to the virus.
While some EU members have shortened their mandatory quarantine periods, the ECDC continues to recommended 14-day quarantines for people who had contact with infected individuals.
“The pandemic is far from over and we must not drop our guard,” Ammon said.