Yoshihide Suga was elected as Japan’s prime minister on Wednesday, becoming the country’s first new leader in nearly eight years and facing a raft of challenges including reviving an economy battered by the COVID-19 crisis.
Suga, who served as chief cabinet secretary to outgoing premier Shinzo Abe, was voted in by the lower house of parliament where his ruling Liberal Democratic Party holds a majority.
Suga, 71, Abe’s longtime right-hand man, has pledged to pursue many of Abe’s programmes, including his signature “Abenomics” economic strategy, and to forge ahead with structural reforms, including deregulation and streamlining bureaucracy.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, resigned because of ill health after nearly eight years in office. Suga served under him in the pivotal post of chief cabinet secretary.
Suga won 314 votes out of 462 cast by parliament’s lower house members. The chamber takes precedence in electing a premier over the upper house, which was also expected to pick Suga because of a ruling bloc majority.
Suga, who won a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race by a landslide on Monday, faces a plethora of challenges, including tackling COVID-19 while reviving a battered economy and dealing with a rapidly aging society.
With little direct diplomatic experience, Suga must also cope with an intensifying U.S.-China confrontation, build ties with the winner of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election and try to keep Japan’s own relations with Beijing on track.
Domestic media said that roughly half of the new cabinet would be people from the Abe cabinet. There will be only two women and the average age, including Suga, is 60.
Among those expected to retain their jobs are key players such as Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, along with Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the youngest at 39.
“It’s a ‘Continuity with a capital C’ cabinet,” said Jesper Koll, senior adviser to asset manager WisdomTree Investments.
Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, is likely to be tapped for the defence portfolio, while outgoing Defence Minister Taro Kono will take charge of administrative reform, a post he has held before.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Abe’s point man on COVID-19 response, will remain economy minister, while Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, the son of a politician to whom Suga looked up as his mentor, will also retain his post, media reported.