Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita and Secretary General of National Security Secretariat Shotaro Yachi, who are among the government’s top executives, are petitioning Prime Minister Abe to “release them from duty” when the Heisei Era ends with the abdication of His Majesty the Emperor, which will take place on April 30 next year.
Sugita is resolved to retire due to health problems and will probably decline Abe’s offer “to stay in the post till the new Emperor’s proclamation ceremony of enthronement will be held in October 2019.” It is also a well-acknowledged fact that Yachi too has been expressing desire for early retirement. But Abe is asking him to stay by stressing that he is ‘irreplaceable.”
Under such circumstances, a rumor is spreading that ex-Administrative Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Hiromi Okazaki, who currently heads the Pension Fund Association for Local Government Officials as president, is emerging as a promising successor to Sugita. Director of Cabinet Intelligence Shigeru Kitamura, who has earned the trust of Abe, was once rumored to have a desire to take over Sugita’s post, but the possibility of Kitamura succeeding Sugita was nipped as this met strong opposition from former commissioners general of the National Police Agency and other police personnel.
What is worthy of note about Okazaki’s profile is that when he was young, he was seconded to the Akita prefectural government, where he served as director of the finance division. Akita Prefecture is where Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is from. Okazaki was also vice minister for taxation at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications when Suga was Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the first Abe cabinet. In a sense, he is backed by Suga.
In the case of Yachi, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Akiba will likely succeed him if Yachi remains till January 2021 at the request of Abe. But rumor has it that ex-Vice Minister for Defense Tetsuro Kuroe will emerge as a successor candidate if Yachi retires before 2021. Kuroe stepped down to take the blame for the daily log scandal involving the Ground Self-Defense Force, but three months after his resignation, he became a special advisor (part time) for national security, as recommended by Suga.
Yachi also acknowledges that Kuroe is qualified to fill his shoes if his successor cannot be selected from among those in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sources say. (Abridged)