Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. Photo: AP pool
politics

Japan's populist, pragmatic new PM Suga pushes Abe's vision

29 Comments
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, leaves Sunday on his first overseas foray since taking over from his former boss Shinzo Abe last month, heading to Vietnam and Indonesia.

The choice to visit Southeast Asia underscores Japan’s efforts to counter Chinese influence and build stronger economic and defense ties in the region, much in line with Abe’s vision.

It also reflects pandemic realities. With the U.S. tied up with domestic politics ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Suga was unable to head to Washington straight away for talks with Japan’s most important ally after he rose to power, replacing Abe, who resigned for health reasons.

As he emerges from Abe’s shadow with promises to “work for the people,” Suga is proving in some ways to be even more hard-line. That has raised hackles within Japan and carries the potential to rile neighbors who already were disgruntled by Abe’s nationalist agenda.

Abe had vowed to restore Japan’s waning diplomatic stature and national pride by promoting ultra-nationalistic policies such as traditional family values and amending the post-World War II pacifist constitution to allow a greater overseas military role and capability for Japan.

While Abe traveled abroad relentlessly during his nearly eight years in office, often as Japan’s top salesman, Suga mostly stayed home to manage bureaucrats to push economic, security and other domestic policies.

Suga is expected to sign a bilateral defense equipment and technology transfer agreement with Vietnam as part of Tokyo's efforts to promote exports of Japanese-made military equipment. It's a signal that Suga is certain to follow Abe’s footsteps in diplomacy.

Meanwhile at home, Suga, best known for his behind-the-scenes work pushing Abe's agenda as chief Cabinet secretary, has deftly used his modest background as the son of a strawberry farmer and a teacher and his low-profile, hardworking style to craft a more populist image than his predecessor.

With much of the world, including Japan, occupied with battling the coronavirus pandemic, Suga is focusing more on delivering results back home.

So far, he appears to be striving to distinguish himself from Abe by pumping out a hodgepodge of consumer-friendly policies meant to showcase his practical and quick work.

He cannot afford to waste time, with national elections expected within months.

(asterisk)What is always on my mind is to tackle what needs to be accomplished without hesitation and quickly, and start from whatever is possible ... and let the people recognize the change,” Suga told reporters Friday as he marked his first month in office.

Suga has ordered his Cabinet to rush through approvals of several projects such as eliminating the requirement for Japanese-style “hanko” stamps widely used in place of signatures on business and government documents. He is forging ahead with his earlier efforts to lower cellphone rates and promote use of computers and online government and business.

Tackling Japan's low birthrate and shrinking population head-on, he favors granting insurance coverage for infertility treatments.

“So far, Prime Minister Suga is working on policies that are easy to understand and popular to many people, as his administration apparently aims to maintain high support ratings,” said Ryosuke Nishida, a sociologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He is boldly tackling reforms one after another, and that’s his strategy to make his government look as if it is achieving results.”

At the same time, Suga's refusal, without explanation, to approve the appointments of six professors out of a slate of 105 to the state-funded Science Council of Japan has drawn accusations that he is trying to muzzle dissent and impinge on academic freedoms.

The flap looks unlikely to balloon into a serious crisis for Suga, who has not given any explanation apart from saying that his decision was legal and that the group of academics that advises and checks government policies should be acceptable to the public.

But it has added to concerns that Suga might be more forthright than Abe in quashing opposition: The council, set up in 1949, has repeatedly opposed military technology research at universities, most recently in 2017. Its objections to government funding for such research is contrary to Abe's efforts to build up Japan’s military capability.

Many Japanese, especially academics, are wary of abuse of power given the country’s history of militarist repression before and during World War II and anti-communist campaigns after the war.

Historian Masayasu Hosaka, writing in the Mainichi newspaper, described it as a “purge.”

The surprise decision sent support ratings for Suga's Cabinet to just above 50% last week from well above 60% shortly after he took office.

Adding to unease over possible interference in academic freedom, the education ministry urged public schools to display a black cloth symbolizing mourning along with the national flag and to hold a moment of silence to show respect for the late Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, whose state-funded funeral was held Saturday.

Such moves would come as no surprise under Abe, who as grandson of wartime leader Nobusuke Kishi and heir to a political dynasty stuck to his ultra-conservative agenda.

But while Suga’s own personal ideology is unknown, he followed Abe's example in making ritual donations of religious ornaments Saturday to the Yasukuni Shrine to pay respect to the war dead. China and South Korea consider the shrine, which also commemorates executed Japanese war criminals, a symbol of Japan's militaristic past.

Suga “seems to be a person with no ideology or political vision,” said Nishida. “His failure to articulate a mid- to long-term goal is worrisome ... It seems everything he does is for electoral gain.”

That could prove risky, some analysts say. Heavyweights within the governing Liberal Democratic Party gave Suga, a self-made politician not affiliated with any of the party factions, their backing when Abe suddenly stepped aside.

Suga could lose their support just as easily, despite his carefully designed Cabinet and party executive lineups, which show he is mindful of his precarious situation, said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo and outspoken critic of Abe.

"Basically, the LDP is a party of hereditary politicians, and that’s Mr Suga’s weakness," Nakano said.

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

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


29 Comments
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Suga “seems to be a person with no ideology or political vision,” said Nishida. “His failure to articulate a mid- to long-term goal is worrisome ... It seems everything he does is for electoral gain.”

Suga will do little to change Japan where it counts.

In a few months or years he will step down and little will have changed.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

As he emerges from Abe’s shadow with promises to “work for the people,” Suga is proving in some ways to be even more hard-line. That has raised hackles within Japan and carries the potential to rile neighbors who already were disgruntled by Abe’s nationalist agenda.

There is this one line promise to "work for the people" and he is called a populist then there is a list of his policies and agenda that having nothing to do with helping the public. If he is really following in the footsteps of Abe how about going forward with long promised reforms like actually enforcing workplace regulations on overtime, discriminatory hiring and work/contract status?

Suga is a populist in the sense Donald Trump is a populist.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Look at his public appearances. He keeps reading, no real communication. Questions and answers are always pre-arranged.

This desperate move by the stablishment media to bump up Suga's image is futile.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

said Nishida. “His failure to articulate a mid- to long-term goal is worrisome ... It seems everything he does is for electoral gain.”

Long term goal, let's see in handling birthrate.

Tackling Japan's low birthrate and shrinking population head-on, he favors granting insurance coverage for infertility treatments.

By only favoring insurance for infertility treatment? There are plenty ways in improving birthrate.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Suga is Abe season 2. Abe is still pulling strings behind the scenes, his brother is the defense minister and Suga is the PM. Kato, Nishimura, and Aso are all still on the team and pay deference to Abe. Suga has also basically closed the books on any further investigation on Moritomo, Sakura, and Kake. Don't believe for once that Suga is working for the people.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Suga is Abe 2.0. The same ol,same ol'.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Don't believe for once that Suga is working for the people.

His call for reduction of mobile phone rates is enough to pull wool over the eyes of the masses.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

This is the new trend in the world,populism and such leaders rise thanks to the population apathetic feelings by one side and the economical crisis from the other.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Abe had vowed to restore Japan’s waning diplomatic stature and national pride by promoting ultra-nationalistic policies such as traditional family values and amending the post-World War II pacifist constitution to allow a greater overseas military role and capability for Japan.

This,it’s frankly scary and it’s the perfect summarization of what dictators from the last century had in their agenda.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

"Abe had vowed to restore Japan’s waning diplomatic stature and national pride by promoting ultra-nationalistic policies such as traditional family values and amending the post-World War II pacifist constitution to allow a greater overseas military role and capability for Japan."

So much for impartial journalism.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

@kurisupisu

Suga will do little to change Japan where it counts.

In a few months or years he will step down and little will have changed.

I don’t think so. I mean, considering all that he’s doing to rush through changes already, I doubt very highly that little would change. We can debate about whether or not some of these changes are good, but there’s no doubt about the fact that he’s fighting very hard for change, as we can already see.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"Adding to unease over possible interference in academic freedom, the education ministry urged public schools to display a black cloth symbolizing mourning along with the national flag and to hold a moment of silence to show respect for the late Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, whose state-funded funeral was held Saturday."

and may I ask what is the problem with showing respect for the late PM? Harvard Law did same thing for Ginsburg.

"Harvard Law School students pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg"

https://www.wcvb.com/article/harvard-law-school-students-pay-tribute-to-supreme-court-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg/34085412

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@sakurasuki

“Tackling Japan's low birthrate and shrinking population head-on, he favors granting insurance coverage for infertility treatments.”

By only favoring insurance for infertility treatment? There are plenty ways in improving birthrate.

Well let’s not put words in Suga’s mouth here. I mean, the article only cited the infertility treatment policy. It didn’t say anything about that being the only policy he had regarding improving Japan’s birthrate. So like I said, let’s not put words in his mouth.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well Done PM Suga. You pissed off the western media and South Korea and China, which means you are doing the right thing. Keep up the good work.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Interesting how some LPD right wingers put in the same pot the west,China and south korea,so how’s the thing?

If China is invading you then you won’t need the help of the west?

You ultra nationalists are always ready to change opinion and sides depending on the topic.

Then you don’t need any help if you get in conflict with China or North Korea right?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Suga is (so far by poll) popular but not populist. Some reformist programmes he is seeking to implement will not necessarily please majority of the public.

Abe was popular and I hear many liking his character regardless of policy records or failure. But in some politically challenging areas, Abe had just pushed away and kept procrastinating.

"Basically, the LDP is a party of hereditary politicians, and that’s Mr Suga’s weakness," Nakano said.

Not merely in LDP, but also other parities are there a large number of hereditary politicians inheriting electoral support bases from family members (parent or relative).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can't believe AP let her file this drivel.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Well Done PM Suga. You pissed off the western media

Yeah. So much so that The Associated Press published this very hatchet-job on the PM. /s

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The article puts the "populist" word out there and then fails to describe anything that is overtly populist. There are aspects of populism in Japan, Abe's "utsukushi kuni - Nippon" slogan and the hosting of the Olympics, but I do not see anything in Suga that is ramping it up. It's nowhere near a Brexit/MAGA level of populism. It's just the same old LDP cronyism with the same people behind the curtain.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The only people Suga is working for are those that belong to Nippon Kaigi.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If Suga keeps pushing Abe's vision, he could well be a populist, but certainly not a pragmatist. Dogmatism appears to be the order of the day in Japan under the new premiership.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In the US, its Health Care or LGTBQ rights, minority rights, or police behaviour. Lots of issues. In Japan, what is it? What are people demanding from their leaders and politicians? I don't really see any enthusiasm from any of them. Just stay in power and pretend everything is fine. Maybe thats a good thing. Maybe the aging and declining population is a good thing. Either Japan is just kicking the cans down the road or its driving off a cliff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Populist? Really?

in what way?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

stickman1760 - Populist? Really? in what way?

Tackling Japan's low birthrate and shrinking population head-on, he favors granting insurance coverage for infertility treatments.

He believes that covering infertility treatments with the national health insurance will make people run out and have babies. He fails to understand that the reasons people are not having babies are due to no job security with 60% of the population on short-term or part-tine contracts, decreasing salaries, the high cost of child care and schooling and the failure of the pension system.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Suga. Neither pragmatic or populist. An old man, with the pretense of a humble background, which he abandoned many moons ago. a party hack & enforcer who has assumed power and has a tyrannical underpinning to his method for gaining his will. A man of no vision or actual intent to enact a better world for Japan. He simply serves the powers greater than himself and a rather ordinary corrupt cronyism.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Every Japanese politician is a populist because they represent Japanese people instead of a million of ethnicities!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Do the hustle

agree 100 percent. Just like the previous LDP PMs. Their only interest is keeping corporate Japan happy. The average man, woman on the street can go to hell. Hence their stance on going ahead with the Olympics.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Short, boring, ineffective.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Abe Mario & Suga Luigi.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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