Yoshihide Suga

Prime Minister of Japan

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Yoshihide Suga
菅 義偉
Official photograph of Suga
Official portrait, 2021
Prime Minister of Japan
Assumed office
16 September 2020
MonarchNaruhito
DeputyTarō Asō
Preceded byShinzo Abe
President of the Liberal Democratic Party
Assumed office
14 September 2020
Secretary-GeneralToshihiro Nikai
Preceded byShinzo Abe
Chief Cabinet Secretary
In office
26 December 2012 – 16 September 2020
Prime MinisterShinzo Abe
Preceded byOsamu Fujimura
Succeeded byKatsunobu Katō
Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications
In office
26 September 2006 – 27 August 2007
Prime MinisterShinzo Abe
Preceded byHeizō Takenaka
Succeeded byHiroya Masuda
Member of the House of Representatives
for Kanagawa's 2nd district
Assumed office
20 October 1996
Preceded byConstituency established
Majority76,027 (34.6%)
Personal details
Born (1948-12-06) 6 December 1948 (age 72)
Yuzawa, Akita, Japan
Political partyLiberal Democratic
Spouse(s)Mariko Suga
Children3 (Seigoh, eldest son)
Alma materHosei University (LLB)
WebsiteOfficial website

Yoshihide Suga (菅 義偉, Suga Yoshihide, [sɯɡa joɕiꜜçide]; born 6 December 1948) is a Japanese politician who has been Prime Minister of Japan since September 2020. He was Chief Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from 2012 to 2020 and Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications from 2006 to 2007.

Born to a family of strawberry farmers in rural Akita Prefecture, Suga moved to Tokyo after graduating from high school, where he enrolled in Hosei University.[1] Shortly after graduating with a Bachelor of Laws, Suga became an aide to Representative Hikosaburo Okonogi in 1975, before entering politics himself when he was elected to the Yokohama Municipal Assembly in 1987.[2] In the 1996 election, Suga was elected to the House of Representatives, representing Kanagawa's 2nd district as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

During his time in the Diet, Suga became a close ally of then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. When Abe first became Prime Minister in 2006, he appointed Suga to the Cabinet as Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications. Suga left the Cabinet a year later, but after the LDP won the 2012 election, Suga was appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary, a role he would hold throughout Abe's second term as Prime Minister.[3] This made him the longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary in Japanese history. In September 2020, after Abe announced that he would resign due to health concerns, Suga declared his candidacy in the subsequent LDP leadership election. Widely considered the frontrunner, Suga comfortably won the election on 14 September with 70% of the vote. Two days later, he was formally elected Prime Minister by the Diet and appointed by Emperor Naruhito, making him the first new Prime Minister of the Reiwa era.[4]

At his first press conference as the Prime Minister, Suga stated that his premiership will focus first on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, second on protecting employment and ensuring businesses in to save economic conditions in light of the pandemic, third on continuing Abenomics suite of economic policies, and fourth on digital transformation and the review of supply chains.[5] It had been reported after LDP leadership election that he had stated that his premiership will focus on continuing the policies and goals of the Abe administration, including the Abenomics suite of economics policies, the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and securing the release of Japanese abductees from North Korea.[6][7]

Early life and education

Suga was born to a family of strawberry farmers in Ogachi (now Yuzawa), a rural area in Akita Prefecture, and moved to Tokyo after graduation from Yuzawa High School. He attended night school to obtain a Bachelor of Laws from Hosei University in 1973.[8][9] Suga chose Hosei "because it was the cheapest option available" and he "worked in a cardboard factory in Tokyo to pay his tuition".[10]

Political career

Suga with Ichita Yamamoto and Satsuki Katayama (19 September 2006)

After graduating from university, Suga worked on a House of Councillors (upper house) election campaign, and thereafter worked as secretary to LDP Diet Member Hikosaburo Okonogi, father of LDP politician Hachiro Okonogi, for eleven years. Suga resigned from this position in October 1986 to pursue his own career in politics.[11] He was elected to the Yokohama City Council in April 1987, campaigning door-to-door on foot, visiting as many as 30,000 houses and wearing through six pairs of shoes.[12][13] He pioneered the practice of giving campaign speeches in front of busy train stations, which is now common among Japanese political candidates.[14] Despite being a young councilor, Suga presided over the highest levels of government, which earned him the nickname "the shadow mayor".[15]

Representative

Suga was elected to the Diet of Japan in the 1996 general election, representing the Kanagawa 2nd district. In his third year in the Diet, he shifted his support from Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to former LDP Secretary-General Seiroku Kajiyama, an unusual move for a junior legislator.[14][16] He was re-elected in the 2000 general election, 2003 general election, and 2005 general election.

He was appointed Senior Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications in November 2005 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He was promoted to Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and Minister for Privatization of the Postal Services in the first Shinzo Abe cabinet in September 2006, and added the portfolio of Minister of State for Decentralization Reform in December 2006.[12] He was instrumental in the development of Japan's "hometown donation" (ふるさと納税, furusato nōzei) system, which allowed taxpayers to obtain deductions by donating money to local governments.[8] He was replaced by Hiroya Masuda in a cabinet reshuffle in August 2007.[17]

His "street-corner" campaigning style was credited with holding his seat in the 2009 general election, when many other LDP lawmakers lost their seats amid a surge in support for the Democratic Party of Japan.[16]

In October 2011, he was appointed Chairman of the LDP Party Organization and Campaign Headquarters. In September 2012, he was appointed Executive Acting Secretary-General of the LDP.[12]

As a Diet member, Suga built a power base among legislators not affiliated with the party's factions, particularly a group of young first-generation lawmakers known as the "Ganesha group".[18]

Chief Cabinet Secretary

Suga (right) shaking hands with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman in 2013
Suga (third from right) at the announcement of the Okinawa Consolidation Plan in 2013

Suga remained close to Shinzo Abe during the late 2000s and early 2010s, and urged Abe to run for the LDP presidency in 2012.[8] Unlike many of Abe's other allies, Suga pushed Abe to focus on the economy rather than Abe's long-standing ambition to revise Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits Japan from using a military as means of settling international disputes.[16]

Following Abe's victory in the 2012 general election, Suga was appointed Chief Cabinet Secretary in the second Abe cabinet in December 2012. In September 2014, he was given the additional portfolio of Minister in charge of Alleviating the Burden of the Bases in Okinawa.[12] Suga and Tarō Asō were the only members of the December 2012 cabinet who remained in the cabinet as of November 2019.[19] Suga is by far the longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary in Japanese history, serving his post for a total of 2,820 days; the second longest-serving Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, served for a total of 1,289 days, less than half as long as Suga.[3]

As Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga served as an aide and advisor to Abe, and took an active managerial role in the government. He had a key role in the government's initiatives to attract tourists and foreign workers and reduce mobile telephone rates.[10] He formed a team to reexamine the lead-up to the Kono Statement of 1993 but the group was soon after disbanded without ever reaching a consensus.[20] He was affiliated with the openly nationalist organisation Nippon Kaigi.[21] Under Abe, Suga overcame party resistance to implement a visa program that opened the doors for unskilled foreign workers, a shift from the previous policy, which centered on internship programs that often confined foreign workers to low-paying jobs.[22] He was also supportive of the aggressive measures by the Bank of Japan to counter deflation.[23] In 2015, he was criticized for publicly encouraging Japanese women to "contribute to their country by feeling like they want to have more children".[24] He continued to hold his seat in the 2014 general election and 2017 general election.

Suga announcing the new Japanese era name "Reiwa" on 1 April 2019

Suga gained domestic and international fame when he announced the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, on 1 April 2019, earning him the nickname "Uncle Reiwa" (Reiwa Ojisan).[25][26] While he had previously been a low-profile member of the government, this honor gave him an instant surge in name recognition and led more LDP lawmakers to view him as a viable candidate for party leadership.[8][19] He was sent to Washington in May 2019 for a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials, fueling speculation that he was being groomed to serve as Abe's successor.[9][10] Suga faced scrutiny later that year due to the resignations of Cabinet ministers Katsuyuki Kawai and Isshu Sugawara, both of whom had been close associates of Suga and were accused of campaign financing violations.[19] Suga also remained politically active during this time, coordinating support for the LDP candidate in the 2019 Hokkaido gubernatorial election, a role typically reserved for top LDP officials.[10] Suga served as a key Abe deputy during the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He criticized the structure of the Japanese bureaucracy, with deep divisions between ministries, as stalling coordination to stop the spread of the virus.[27]

Prime Minister of Japan

Following Shinzo Abe's resignation announcement in August 2020 due to his ulcerative colitis, Suga emerged as the leading contender to replace Abe on the leadership election, having gained the support of Deputy Prime Minister Tarō Asō and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, as well as the two largest factions in the LDP and supposedly even Abe himself.[28] Suga's main competitors in the LDP leadership race were longtime Abe rival Shigeru Ishiba and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida.[29][4]

Suga was elected to the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party on 14 September 2020, with 377 votes out of a total of 534.[30][31] Upon his election, Suga outlined a policy agenda that included tackling the ongoing pandemic and implementing further deregulation to revitalize the economy. He reiterated his past interest in consolidating regional banks and lowering mobile phone charges in Japan.[32][33] Suga vowed to continue the economic policies of his predecessor, known as Abenomics, and to continue the path of Shinzo Abe in terms of foreign policy, making his "top priority" the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.[6][34] He and his cabinet were sworn in on 16 September 2020.[35]

At the first press conference as the Prime Minister, Suga officially stated that his premiership will focus first on responding to the novel coronavirus, the second on protecting employment and ensuring businesses in savior economic conditions, the third on continuing the Abenomics for economic revival, and the fourth on digital transformation and the review of supply chains.[5]

Foreign relations

In October 2020, Suga made his first trips abroad to Vietnam and Indonesia,[36] with analysts saying that he chose those two countries amid the growing tensions between one of its closest allies, the United States, and China.[37] Suga also vowed to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries and is expected to sign an agreement allowing his government to export defense equipment and technology to Vietnam.[38]

Suga has also committed to stronger ties with US President Joe Biden to discuss the US-Japan security alliance, the coronavirus pandemic and global warming.[39] In particular, Suga is considering attending a global climate summit proposed by Biden in a push to bring nations in line with Japan's goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Suga has made previous environmental commitments, such as a ¥2 trillion fund to promote research into decarbonization technologies and the setting of specific goals at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in the UK in November 2021.[40]

COVID-19 pandemic

In his 2021 New Year's address, Suga pledged to bring COVID-19 under control and to push forward with preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which had been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[41]

Suga implemented the GoTo stimulus program, which provides steep discounts for domestic travel in response to the economic consequences of the pandemic.[42][43] By stimulating demand for tourism, it was aimed at boosting regional economies and helping hotels and airlines.[44] However, it was suspended in December 2020 after criticism that it helped spread the virus and conflicted with the government's message for avoiding unnecessary travel.[42][45] This was after Suga denied considering a halt to the campaign to focus on improving the economy.[44]

Suga has received criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the cabinet's approval rating from 74% in September 2020 to 42% in January 2021. Shigeru Omi, the COVID-19 task force chief, said that this was due to Suga's GoTo promotions. It has also been attributed to his rejection of scholars on a science advisory panel[44] and his attendance at an expensive steak dinner for eight, including several celebrities and politicians, after his decision to suspend 'GoTo Travel'; all attendees were over 70, a high-risk age group for the virus. At the time, the government was advising people to avoid dining in groups of more than five.[44][46][47] Suga has subsequently apologized.[48]

In January 2021, Suga declared a state of emergency in Tokyo metropolitan area and the three surrounding prefectures, which is Japan's first such declaration since April 2020. The emergency includes a number of restrictions on daily life, with employees encouraged to work from home and residents being urged to avoid non-essential outings; however, schools have remained open. While the state of emergency carries no legal power, Suga has stated the government will consider amending the law to allow local authorities to penalize businesses that do not comply with official requests. Suga also pledged to provide up to ¥1.8 million per month to each restaurant that complies with a request to shorten its operating hours.[49][50]

Personal life

Suga is married and has three sons.[51] His wife, Mariko, is the sister of one of his former co-workers in the office of Hikosaburo Okonogi.[52] Seigoh, eldest son is former director of Tohokushinsha Film (discharged on Feb. 2021).

Suga has a daily fitness routine, which includes doing 100 situps and 40 minutes of walking each morning, and 100 situps each night. He started this routine after a doctor advised him to lose weight, and he lost 14 kg (31 lb) in four months.[14] He is also known as a voracious reader, and is known for reading all major newspapers daily despite his busy schedule.[53][54]

Suga practiced karate when he was a college student. He holds the third dan black belt.[55]

Suga is known to have a sweet tooth. His favorite food is pancakes.[56] His lunch is almost always soba. He neither smokes nor drinks.[56]

References

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External links

House of Representatives of Japan
New title
New constituency
Representative for for Kanagawa's 2nd district
1996–present
Incumbent
Political offices
Preceded by
Heizō Takenaka
Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications
2006–2007
Succeeded by
Hiroya Masuda
Preceded by
Osamu Fujimura
Chief Cabinet Secretary
2012–2020
Succeeded by
Katsunobu Katō
Preceded by
Shinzo Abe
Prime Minister of Japan
2020–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Shinzo Abe
President of the Liberal Democratic Party
2020–present
Incumbent
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