Suga faces tricky call on snap election

By Linda Sieg

As Japan's next prime minister, Yoshihide Suga will face an early, and difficult, leadership decision: whether to call an general election before his honeymoon with voters fades or wait and risk seeing ratings slide.

The decision will affect Suga's chances of holding office beyond the remainder of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's term, which expires next year. A successful early election may also help him gain momentum to push his agenda, including deregulation and smashing bureaucratic silos.

Suga won a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership poll on Monday, and the party's parliamentary majority means he is virtually guaranteed to replace Abe, who is resigning after nearly eight years as prime minister because of illness.

Suga acknowledged on Monday that the question of timing for a lower house election was a tough call amid worries about the coronavirus and a slumping economy. A poll for the powerful chamber must be held by late October 2021.

A dozen years ago, Taro Aso was expected to call a snap election soon after taking office as premier, while his ratings were relatively high. He waited, his popularity declined and when he called an election in 2009, the LDP lost power for three years.

The memory of that trauma lingers, although the LDP's opposition is far weaker now.

"There's only a year left, so the timing of when to dissolve the lower house is a vexing problem," Suga told a news conference after a landslide victory in the party vote.

Speculation has swirled that Suga would call a lower house poll for as early as next month. Aso, now finance minister, said on Tuesday an early election should be considered because the Olympic Games will be held in Japan next year.

Suga sounded cautious, saying his priorities were to end the coronavirus outbreak and revive the economy.

A robust LDP election performance would boost Suga's chances of winning a full three-year term next year.

Long seen as more of a backroom operator than a top leader, Suga's ratings have jumped since he began running for the LDP post. Some party insiders fear that rise could be short-lived.

"Mr Suga is good at making deals, but he's not especially talented at answering questions in parliament," said one LDP senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Scenarios floated for an early election include Oct 25, Nov 1 and Dec 6, which is Suga's birthday.

An early poll would also diminish chances the LDP would lose seats because the newly unified opposition would have less time to prepare.

"Objectively, it is certain that sooner is better for the LDP," said independent political analyst Atsuo Ito.

Abe's success in leading the LDP to big wins in six national elections - aided by a weak opposition and low turnout - was key to his tenure as Japan's longest-serving prime minister. Before Abe, Japan suffered a succession of short-lived leaders.

The LDP's junior coalition partner, the Komeito party, is against an early election, and opinion polls show the public is more focused on steps to fight COVID-19 and reboot the economy than going to the polls.

Voter surveys measuring Suga's popularity after he takes office on Wednesday could guide the decision.

"It's true calls in the LDP for an early election are growing but Suga is cautious," said Tomoaki Iwai, a Nihon University professor. "We have to see the opinion polls."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The last thing he needs is the people having a say, even with the squewed gerrymandering system in place, he is not showing much confidence.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Suga is one the the ultimate political operators here in LDP politics it seems. Last night on the NHK news they were "introducing" the members of his expected to be named cabinet.

He is smart enough to keep a number of current members in their positions, and has moved a potential thorn, Kono, to a different post, and has included members from within different factions of the LDP as well, including one from the "Ishiba" faction.

He has included a number of members who have prior experience in cabinet/ministerial positions, and will be able to hit the ground running.

Now what matters is how he will put his personal stamp on this administration, or will he be "Abe-light"

2 ( +2 / -0 )

But he'll be LDP president and P.M. till at least Oct 21 next year anyway.And he can remain so, as long as he follows the habatsu that put him in power.Since he is not part of one,he's in effect beholden to them to keep his job.His so-called reforms are very much in question and that cabinet he put forth is more of the same ol',same ol'.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If this is a vexing problem, I hope he doesn’t have to face anything more serious like a world-wide pandemic and economic downturn, and increasing nationalism throughout the world, plus a Japanese economy heading for the toilet.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Like I said in another thread to HELL with an early snap election!

This is what MUST happen given the current circumstances:

Election Sept or Oct 2021 after the Olympics (yeah right!)

If virus situation is still bad postpone for 6months

THERE DONE!!! A snap election now is more than just wasting more tax payers $$$$ & time, it could get people sick or even KILLED!!!

Youre welcome!!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

plus side for him, the opposition is totally unorganized.

plus side for him, only stanch party members will vote due to the pandemic.

negative side for us, more economic decline and SARS-CoV-2 spreading out of polling stations throughout the entire nation.

waiting a year will hopefully be when the virus is contained.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He doesn't face a tricky question if he calls a snap election now he is out and the new alliance recently formed is in. He stands a better chance waiting until early next year and if he gets Corona vaccine distribution right and can boost the economy at that time then he can call himself Japan's saviour of the pandemic and that is when he will call a snap election


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Snap election aside, Suga-led Japan would not follow Trump’s strategy?

It must be too early to predict or assess what new Japanese leader Suga would do to Sino-Japan relationship. He could well go for some drastic diplomatic measures. 

He may likely to pull a neutral stance on China-US decoupling, or he may be more likely to follow his predecessors to support US on practically every international issue. Just wait and see..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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