At a tear-soaked press conference (at least in the eyes of this reporter), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation on due to health problems from ulcerative colitis. He will serve until his successor is picked. Japan’s longest-serving prime minister brings his tenure to a close earlier than expected, as law prohibits him from running for a fifth term in the next presidential election slated for September 2021. In anticipation, many politicos within the ruling LDP party have already been jockeying for position to be Abe’s eventual replacement. Here are some of the names that have been tossed around by the international press.
1. Fumio Kishida
With speculation rife over Shinzo Abe's health, who would replace him as Prime Minister if he does have to step down? These are the leading candidates via @IsabelRTokyo https://t.co/Zwm5fUc4tY pic.twitter.com/2cBapSaleV
— Gearoid Reidy (@GearoidReidy) August 26, 2020
First, don’t expect any surprises or dark horses to emerge from the race. This is all about putting in a steady hand who can maintain the status quo for the LDP ruling party until the next election. Kishida fits the bill – and has already declared his wishes to fill the position. Associated with moderate viewpoints, the former cabinet minister (defense and foreign affairs) hails from a Hiroshima political family, and meets all the criteria. This would be the safe pick that wouldn’t ruffle feathers in the short-term, but it remains to be seen if Kishida has the fortitude to navigate the rough waters ahead.
2. Taro Aso
I think people should more alert to the possibility that if Abe can't hold on, the factional math favors the birth of a caretaker second Aso government. pic.twitter.com/tqcnAFGYtw
— Tobias Harris (@observingjapan) August 25, 2020
If the LDP party is looking for a familiar face, then they need look no further than the current finance minister and deputy prime minister. He’s been prime minister before, though he ended his term by leading the LDP to its worst election result in history – paving the way for the DPJ to take control of the government in 2009 – only the second time the LDP lost re-election in post-war history. They let Abe have a second shot after less than stellar results in his first go-around, so past failure isn’t necessarily a deterrent from being the prime minister of Japan.
3. Shigeru Ishiba
Shigeru Ishiba, potential Abe successor, working to build support https://t.co/fYYVBYQhH2
— The Japan Times (@japantimes) August 19, 2020
Ishiba’s name is always the first to pop up when it comes to Abe’s eventual successor within the LDP as he was narrowly defeated by Abe in the 2012 election. However, he had a falling out with Abe in 2015 after launching on opposing faction within the LDP, and is at odds with several party leaders. While Ishiba’s name will certainly bandied about in the upcoming days, our expectation is that party leaders will let him fight it out in the next election.
4. Taro Kono
Some high-tech eyeglass cloth.
— KONO Taro (@konotaromp) August 26, 2020
Kono’s aspirations to be prime minister are no secret and ultimately could be his downfall in this scenario. The defense minister has the credentials (and the family lineage the LDP loves), but he has also fostered a maverick attitude and has diverged from the party on key policy issues. Word coming out is that the LDP is looking for somebody who can unify the party, which could put Kono on the outside looking in. However, if they decide they need a strong public figure who can rally the masses, the outgoing Kono could be the pick.
5. Tomomi Inada
— Philip Brasor (@philipbrasor) February 17, 2020
Most pundits are leaving women off of the short list of Abe’s replacements, but the former defense minister has expressed intentions to run for the LDP’s top post in the 2021 elections. If the party wants a fresh face – with the same message as Abe’s – then Inada could be the dark (and we mean very dark) horse candidate here. The 61-year-old’s conservative economic and national security policy beliefs fall in line with Abe’s, though her far-right views and past controversies will prove to be too much. Once the dust settles after the boys get done squabbling though, if Japan finds itself with its first female prime minister, you heard it here first.
6. Shinjiro Koizumi
According to a Kyodo survey the dreamy environment minister placed second behind Ishiba when asked who should become the next prime minister. Don’t expect the 39-year-old best known as the husband of television announcer Christel Takigawa to be prime minister just yet. His track record is too short and he has been vocal about his opposition toward LDP policies of reopening nuclear power stations following the Tohoku disaster and other measures. However, since being appointed environment minister in 2019 he has toed the line more, voicing the support for the construction of new coal-fired power stations. Still, Koizumi’s political bun is still in the oven.
7. Yoshihide Suga
“Uncle Reiwa”, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga “has become less involved in policy, especially in the recent coronavirus measures” | by @SatoshiJournal via @japantimes https://t.co/vNczxYragO
— Michey Peckitt マイケル (@Peckitt) July 7, 2020
And the winner is Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, as LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai has already publicly expressed support for Suga’s “great capabilities.” Furthermore, last year the 71-year-old Akita native was selected to announce the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, signifying his position as a party favorite. If Japan is looking for a steady rock, Suga is it. Viewed as Abe’s right hand man, the unflappable career politician has brought several policy measures to fruition and remained calm addressing the public during the administration’s darkest hours. However, many pundits were surprised that Suga has taken a backseat during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and could be a sign that his star has lost some luster within the party.
Feature image: Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com