Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday his successor Yoshihide Suga would extend his time in power by leading the ruling coalition to victory in the next general election.
“At that point, of course he should stay in office,” Abe said in an interview with Kyodo News.
Suga became prime minister in September by easily winning the race for leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. But as he is merely serving out the remainder of Abe’s term, he will soon have to fight for the job again.
To keep his administration going, Suga will have to win a fresh three-year term next September, a fact at which Abe voiced exasperation.
Suga won the job with “an overwhelming vote of confidence,” Abe said during the one-hour interview. “To be honest, I feel like, are we really doing this again a year later?”
Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe’s first stint from 2006 to 2007 was plagued by scandals by Cabinet members and cut short when his ulcerative colitis flared up.
Returning to the job in 2012, he took steps to expand Japan’s role in regional security and bring the world’s third-largest economy out of deflation before resigning in September to receive treatment for the same illness.
Suga, who was chief Cabinet secretary during Abe’s second stint, won the top job by beating former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.
Ruling out the possibility that he would seek a third tenure as prime minister, Abe said the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito winning the next House of Representatives election would cement Suga’s right to stay in office.
Victory means maintaining a majority, “not how many seats are lost or gained,” said the 66-year-old, who continues to hold major influence in the LDP’s largest faction and the party at large.
The current four-year term for members of the powerful lower chamber of the Diet ends next October, with the prime minister holding the power to call a snap election at any time.
Looking back at his nearly eight years in power, Abe said he ruled out a “double election,” where votes are cast on the same day for the lower chamber and the upper chamber.
It was too much of a gambit, he said, with the potential for a big victory but also a devastating loss. “I couldn’t risk it.”
On his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Abe defended the decision to declare a state of emergency in April, first in seven prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka and later nationwide.
“I didn’t believe we could get through it” without the declaration, which significantly slowed the economy by calling on the public to stay at home and making some businesses temporarily close, he said.
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