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Editorial: Elected as LDP president, Suga must bring society peace of mind / Be tenacious in efforts to revive economy

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga won the LDP presidential election and will lead a new cabinet. It is hoped that he will exercise his leadership skills to solve a mountain of problems, including dealing with an infectious disease.


Suga scored an overwhelming victory, winning about 70% of the combined 534 votes from LDP Diet members and prefectural chapters.


Five of the seven factions within the LDP supported Suga, who put forward the idea of policy continuity, which must have generated wider sympathy in the party and its chapters.


■ ‘Policy continuity’ worked


Upon assuming the presidency, Suga said, “We must overcome this crisis and continue the efforts of Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe so that each person in Japan can feel safe and have a stable life.”


LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida put forward the slogan “from division to cooperation” and called for improving measures against the novel coronavirus, but he failed to reach three digits in votes. Former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, who was making his fourth attempt at the presidency, stressed his emphasis on local communities, but he came in only third place.


Both Kishida and Ishiba will now face a critical moment as to whether they can maintain their presence.


This is effectively the first time since the party was formed that an LDP lawmaker not belonging to any party faction has been elected president. Although Suga is supported by non-factional Diet members, his foundation in the party is not solid. Among the factions that supported him in the presidential election, a battle for control of the party and Diet posts is taking place.


Suga has stated, “I will not accept nominations from factions on personnel affairs,” and rightly so, as he must maintain the principle of the right person for the right position. If Suga makes appointments according to faction-led intentions, such as sending in faction members for cabinet posts based on the number of times they have been elected, he will have to pay the price.


It is also important to promote mid-career and younger LDP members in order to develop human resources.


In the election violation case involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, House of Councillors member Anri, both former members of the LDP, it has emerged that the huge amount of funds provided from party headquarters to Anri’s side were questionable. Suga must ensure he manages the party in a transparent manner.


Since Abe resigned as party chief in the middle of his term, Suga will serve only one year in office, until September next year. The terms of House of Representatives members will expire in October next year. Some have said that Suga needs to dissolve the lower house early for a general election in order to build a full-fledged administration.


The key is to maintain a stable political system. While prioritizing economic revitalization through various measures, the Abe administration deepened the Japan-U.S. alliance and increased the nation’s strength.


Expectations are high for Suga, who has been at the center of the Cabinet supporting the Abe administration for a long time.


A native of Akita Prefecture, he moved to Tokyo after graduating from high school and worked for a private company. He then worked part-time to pay his way through college. He is known as a “man who knows hardship” within the party.


■ Hopes for practical skills


In addition to serving as a spokesman for the Cabinet, Suga has also been devoted to coordinating policy within the ruling parties and working on Diet affairs.


Many people have praised Suga’s practical skills.


But leading a country carries a heavy responsibility. In carrying out his policies, it is not enough to simply call for policy continuity.


His ability to accurately understand changes in international affairs and strategically respond to them will be tested. It is also essential to address social security reform and fiscal reconstruction from a medium- to long-term perspective.


During his election campaign, Suga showed his willingness to reorganize regional financial institutions and lower mobile phone fees. He must steadily realize these matters and produce results.


The Abe administration lagged in its responses to the novel coronavirus. Suga is partly responsible for this.


In order to bring society peace of mind, politics has a major role to play. The government must work to dispel the concerns of the people by expanding tests of the novel coronavirus and strengthening the medical system.


Support for households and businesses need to be provided to help the economy recover from its slump. The growth strategy must be rebuilt. Suga is urged to tenaciously implement such measures.


■ Revive constitutional debate


Abe sought to revise the Constitution during his term in office, but the amendments did not materialize. How Suga will revitalize the debate over constitutional revision, which has been stalled by the conflict between the ruling and opposition parties, remains to be seen.


Suga has stated his intention to follow the prime minister’s wishes and aims to stipulate the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9.


The threat from North Korea is growing. Vigilance must be maintained against China, which is expanding its military presence. It is significant to dispel the argument that still remains that the SDF are unconstitutional, by stipulating legal grounds in the top law for the existence of the SDF, which protect the people of Japan.


Some observers think that Suga is not as enthusiastic as Abe about constitutional revision. It is important to debate the Constitution constantly in response to changes in society, the economy and the security environment. The establishment of a state of emergency clause and dissolving the merged constituencies of the House of Councillors are also important issues to be discussed.


Suga should seek common ground with junior coalition partner Komeito and the opposition parties in order to hold a constructive discussion at the commissions on the Constitution of the both lower and upper houses.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 15, 2020.

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