Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, favored to become the next prime minister, has said he will not aim for an “interim” government to fill in for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will depart in the middle of his current term citing ill health.
In an interview on Saturday, Suga, the right-hand man of Abe, said the government’s coronavirus response will be the top priority for the next administration.
“The next administration should not be an interim government,” Suga said. “(The next leader) should fulfill duties with confidence and discharge responsibility to the people.”
Suga, 71, is seeking to become the next president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and ultimately the prime minister, succeeding Abe, 65, who has been suffering from ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease.
The remarks by the top government spokesman counter the view among some LDP members that the next government will only serve as a transition, as the successor to Abe will serve out the rest of his term as party chief until September 2021.
He also said he will aim to push for decentralization as well as the digitalization of administrative work.
“Unless we break from sectionalism and sticking to precedents, there will be no revival of Japan,” Suga said.
When asked about the timing for dissolving the House of Representatives for an election, Suga declined to comment, saying he will place priority on fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
Other contenders include former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is the LDP’s policy chief, and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, a critic of Abe. Official campaigning for the election starts on Tuesday.
Suga, who had earlier denied any intention to seek the top job, said he decided to run in the LDP leadership race after Abe abruptly announced his resignation late last month so as not to create a political vacuum. “I made up my mind to do it without running away,” Suga said.
The upcoming LDP presidential race, an abridged version without votes by rank-and-file party members across the nation, is putting Ishiba, who still lacks strong support from fellow LDP Diet members, at a disadvantage.
Suga is seen as the front-runner as five of the LDP’s seven factions have thrown their support behind him, sending his rivals scrambling to garner backing from local chapters that will also cast three ballots each in the party leadership election.
During the interview, Suga dismissed the view that his securing of wide factional support will prompt him to favor them when picking Cabinet ministers and senior LDP executives if he wins the election.
The winner of the party race is almost certain to become the next prime minister as the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito control both houses of the Diet.
As Abe is leaving office without achieving his long-held goal of amending the Constitution, Suga expressed hope to realize it and promote parliamentary debate on the divisive issue.
“It’s natural to revise it given changes of the time over the 70 years,” Suga said. The postwar pacifist Constitution has never been amended since it took effect in 1947.
Since Abe’s return to power in 2012, Suga has served as the top government spokesman, in charge of crisis management, playing a critical role in an administration engulfed in a series of scandals.
Suga unveiled a set of campaign promises Saturday, including protecting jobs and people’s livelihoods, creating vibrant regional economies and building a reliable social security system amid the rapid graying of society.
On diplomacy, Suga vowed to defend national interests, placing the long-standing Japan-U.S. alliance as the basic foundation of the country’s security, which is in line with Abe’s stance.
In the LDP race, a total of 535 votes will be cast — 394 from Diet members and 141 from prefectural chapters.
Before the vote, all the LDP chapters in the country’s 47 prefectures except for Akita are planning to reflect the voices of rank-and-file members by holding primaries or using other means.
A Kyodo News survey of senior officials of local chapters indicates that Suga may enjoy a lead over his rivals even in terms of regional support.
Of the 47 senior local chapter officials, 14 support Suga, while Ishiba is backed by four and Kishida by two. The remaining 27 declined to comment or said they were undecided in light of upcoming primaries.