New Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is welcomed by an official as he arrives at the official prime minister's residence in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
politics

Japan's new PM: Self-made and strong-willed

25 Comments
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

Before he got Japan's top government job, Yoshihide Suga was known as a "shadow" prime minister and the right-hand man for his long-serving predecessor.

When Shinzo Abe announced last month he would resign due to ill health, his Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga, said he would come forward to pursue Abe's unfinished work.

The self-made politician was elected by Parliament on Wednesday as Japan's new prime minister, two days after he succeeded Abe as leader of the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

Suga's low-key image from government briefings contrasts with his behind-the-scenes work managing bureaucrats and pushing policies.

As the chief spokesman under Abe, the straight-faced Suga offered bland commentary at twice-daily televised news briefings highlighted last year when he became known as "Uncle Reiwa" for unveiling Emperor Naruhito's imperial era name, Reiwa.

But behind the scenes, Suga is known for stubbornness, an iron-fist approach as a policy coordinator and influencing bureaucrats using the power of the prime minister's office, leading politics watchers to call him the "shadow prime minister."

Some bureaucrats who opposed his policies have said they were removed from government projects or transferred to other posts. Suga recently said he would continue to do so.

As his parents' eldest son, Suga defied tradition by leaving for Tokyo rather than taking over the family strawberry farm in Akita prefecture. He worked at a cardboard factory before entering university, paying his tuition by working part-time jobs, including one at the Tsukiji fish market.

His classmates remember Suga as quiet but a person of determination. Suga, who played baseball in junior high school, insisted on keeping his batting stance despite an instructor's advice, saying his style made better sense, his old friend Yuri Masashi told the Mainichi newspaper. Apparently Suga was not talking off the cuff, and practiced and mastered the technique of a pro baseball star from Akita. "Once he makes a decision, he never sways and he is still the same," Masashi said.

He was a secretary to former trade minister Hikosaburo Okonogi for 11 years before becoming a Yokohama city assemblyman in 1987.

"I jumped into politics, where I had no connection or relatives, literally starting from zero,(asterisk) he said Monday.

Suga was elected to the lower house of parliament in 1996 at age 47, a late start compared to politicians like Abe, a third-generation blue-blood politician elected to parliament at age 29.

Suga was a loyal supporter of Abe since Abe's first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, and helped Abe return to power in 2012 and become Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

Suga has said his top priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around a Japanese economy battered by the pandemic. He has repeatedly praised Abe's diplomacy and economic policies when asked about what he would like to accomplish as prime minister, but his vision of a future Japan remains unclear. He also defended favoritism and cronyism scandals that occurred under Abe, saying the investigations into the cases were properly handled.

Suga, at 71, says he is in good shape and fit for the leadership job. His disciplined daily routine includes sit-ups and walking - while wearing a business suit so he can immediately head to work in an emergency. He commutes from a parliamentary apartment and hardly goes to his home in Yokohama.

He says his weakness is sweets, especially sweet pancakes and daifuku mochi, a Japanese rice treat filled with sweet bean paste.

Suga says he is a reformist and has broken bureaucratic barriers to secure policy achievements. He credits himself for a boom in foreign tourism, which he hopes to revive when the coronavirus pandemic subsides, as well as lowering cellphone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.

He is also known to support what would be a historic change in Japan's immigration policy to allow more foreign laborers to offset the decline in Japan's workforce as the country ages. Abe and his nationalistic supporters were not keen on the change.

Suga has pledged to target vested interests and rules hampering reforms to get more done. One such plan is to form a new agency to promote digital transformation, an area where Japan lags and has delayed efforts to fight the coronavirus.

"Where there is a will, there is a way," is Suga's motto. He says he seeks to build a nation of "self-support, mutual support, then public support," urging self-help for individuals, though that has raised concerns he envisions a government that is cold to the weak and the needy.

Compared to his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly traveled overseas and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe's priorities. Suga said Abe's approach to diplomacy, including his personal contacts with U.S. President Donald Trump, is outstanding and that he may seek Abe's advice.

Suga also inherits other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in regional seas. He will have to decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, postponed to next summer due to the pandemic, and establish a good relationship with whoever wins the U.S. presidential race.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

25 Comments
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"Once he makes a decision, he never sways and he is still the same."

"Shadow prime minister" over the abject failure of Abenomics.

What reassurances do we have that things will be any different?

You can't eat slogans.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

"He says his weakness is sweets, especially sweet pancakes and **daifuku mochi, a Japanese rice treat filled with sweet bean paste.**"

How nice, is this cute little detail going to contribute to fixing this country's problems? Didn't think so.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

But behind the scenes, Suga is known for stubbornness, an iron-fist approach as a policy coordinator and influencing bureaucrats using the power of the prime minister's office, leading politics watchers to call him the "shadow prime minister."

Boy. Can't WAIT for HIM to take over!! YIPPEE!!!!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"Self-made?" He would not be where he is today if he had not attached himself to Abe. He has been loyal to Abe from his first time as PM and this is his reward.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

The Shadow...

His hair is a shadow of its former self

2 ( +4 / -2 )

"Self-made?" He would not be where he is today if he had not attached himself to Abe. He has been loyal to Abe from his first time as PM and this is his reward.

You have not read his biography. He is a farmers son who worked his way through university, taking classes part time while working. I did the same. It's a tough way to get an education and takes some grit to stay with it. He doesn't have a degree from a prestigious university with a strong alumni to network with. He had to make a name for himself through his own work. His first political office was won by walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors. Hundred of doors a day, day after day. No, whether or not I agree with his policies he has earned everything he has through hard work.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

His hair is a shadow of its former self.

I guess Momma never told you that age and treachery overcomes youth and strength!

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Propaganda at its most base level.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Good to have a bit of an outline of the new boy.

Married?

gary

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I congratulate him for getting this far without being from an established political family, especially if he had to work through college.

However, his insistence on following the Abe administration's policies, as described in the other story, suggest he is far from "strong willed".

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Good to have a bit of an outline of the new boy.

Married?

His wife just gave public speech. See the article in JT today.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Abe just switched places with Suga; abe chan with his tummy ache is now going to be the "shadow" prime minister as Suga himself stated will continue with abe's policies. No stress for abe and out of the limelight.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Isn’t it a bit early to roll out the platitudes?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My oh my so fluffy in here!!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Cabinet PR team on full throttle...the Kisha Club lapping up their words.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Yoshihide Suga was known as a "shadow" prime minister

Umm, how can he be the shadow prime minister if he's from the govt (ruling) party? Shadow implies the top opposition party leaders.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

(Contd) wouldn't the shadow prime minister be Yukio Edano as he's from the opposition party?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Umm, how can he be the shadow prime minister if he's from the govt (ruling) party? Shadow implies the top opposition party leaders.

What? Shadow does not imply opposition. Rather it implies ruling from an unseen position, as in the prime minister does his bidding with his own presence being known.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

^ without his own presence being known.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan’s new PM: Self-made and strong willed

Are these good attributes for a country’s leader? It doesn’t seem to be working out so well for the US.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The only good thing you can say about him is that he isn't a member of the aristocracy, or the heir of a local polical dynasty. He's a farmer from Tohoku, in charge of the world's third-largest economy.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"self-support, mutual support, then public support," urging self-help for individuals, though that has raised concerns he envisions a government that is cold to the weak and the needy.

I think I heard such "concerns" raised by the Japanese Communist Party leadership, but honestly, who else would be opposed to "self-help for individuals"?

Who wants a society of adults who do not "self-help", but instead depend on government to get them by?

Japan, with its massive budget deficit of 40 trillion yen, certainly must have those who can look after themselves, do so. (Unless we all start fantasizing of MMT!)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Has he got knee problems too?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My bad, it wasn't Abe. They all look the same, especially with masks on.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

self-made?

his father developed Akinomiya's brand of strawberry, and was the head of akinomiya strawberry growers association.

his family seems too well fed for him to be self-made haha

definitely not a syomin he falsely claims (from syuudan syuusyoku to just a farmers kid).

guess japanese media is working hard for the government.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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