Yoshihide Suga was elected as the new head of Japan’s ruling party on Monday, all but assuring that he will become the country’s new prime minister when a parliamentary election is held later in the week.
Despite his low-key image, Suga, 71, has been a key figure in the administration of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, serving as the government’s top spokesman through his role as chief Cabinet secretary.
Suga’s victory in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party vote virtually guarantees his election in a parliamentary vote Wednesday because of the majority held by the ruling coalition.
The son of a strawberry grower in northern Japan’s Akita prefecture, Suga admitted he had come a long way. “I will devote all of myself to work for the nation and the people,” he said in his victory speech.
He has said that his top priorities will be fighting Covid-19 and turning around a Japanese economy battered by the pandemic, as reported by various media organisations.
He gained the support of party heavyweights and their wing members early in the campaign on expectations that he would continue Abe’s policies.
On the surface, the straight-faced Suga is known for offering bland comments at televised news briefings.
But behind the scenes, he is known for his iron-fisted approach to getting jobs done as a policy coordinator. Bureaucrats who have opposed his policies have reportedly been removed from projects, many transferred elsewhere.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” is Suga’s motto.
He has hardly travelled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe’s international priorities.
In addition to Covid-19 and its economic fallout, Suga will inherit several other challenges, including China, which continues its aggressive actions in the East China Sea and which will require his close attention and assertive diplomacy.
It is becoming clear that his appearance belies the fact that he is a strong character.
But he admits to having a weakness: He loves sweets, particularly pancakes and Japanese mochi with sweet bean paste inside.