By Antoni Slodkowski and Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese ruling party head Yoshihide Suga, in line to become the next prime minister, appeared set on Tuesday to continue his predecessor’s policies by keeping key cabinet ministers and party officials in their posts, as he had promised.
Suga, long a loyal aide and chief cabinet secretary under outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Monday won a landslide victory to take over the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). He pledged to carry on many of Abe’s programmes, including his signature “Abenomics” economic strategy.
He faces a vast array of challenges, including tackling COVID-19 while reviving a battered economy and dealing with a rapidly aging society in which nearly a third of the population is older than 65.
Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi are likely to stay in their positions, according to multiple media reports. Yasutoshi Nishimura is likely to be reappointed as economy minister.
Trade and industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, the son of a politician whom Suga looked up as his mentor, is seen retaining his post. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of maverick former premier Junichiro Koizumi, is also seen staying.
Defence Minister Taro Kono is expected to become administrative reform minister and Nobuo Kishi, an LDP lawmaker who is Abe’s younger brother, will take up the defence portfolio, domestic media said.
Toshihiro Nikai, who was instrumental in helping Suga cement the support of LDP members and was re-appointed as the party‘s secretary-general, told a news conference the top priority is dealing with the new coronavirus, a view echoed by party policy chief Hakubun Shimomura.
“We will do everything we can to secure the vaccines and the medications to protect the people’s lives and health, as well as support medical institutions,” said Shimomura, a former education minister, adding that reviving the economy would be given nearly equal weight.
Suga may name Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, who has become well known to the public as the face of Japan‘s efforts to tackle the coronavirus, as chief cabinet secretary, Nippon TV said. Kato is close to Suga, under whom he served as deputy chief cabinet secretary.
“Many different elements are needed,” Suga said on Monday, when asked about who should replace him. “One is their fit with the prime minister, but thinking about it overall, they also need to have broad strengths, that will be the most calming.”
Suga is virtually certain to be elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday because of the LDP’s lower-house majority. He will serve out Abe’s term as party leader through September 2021.
Known more for his work behind the scenes, Suga emerged as favourite to replace Abe, Japan‘s longest-serving premier, after Abe said last month he would resign because of ill health.
There is widespread speculation that Suga could take advantage of strong support ratings to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call snap elections to earn a full three-year term as LDP head, but he appears wary.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Antoni Slodkowski, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Chang-ran Kim and Chris Gallagher; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Timothy Heritage)