Suga pledges to balance fighting coronavirus and promoting economic activities

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Newly elected head of the Liberal Democratic Party Yoshihide Suga poses for photos following his press conference in Tokyo on Monday night. Photo: Nicolas Datiche/Pool via AP

Yoshihide Suga, who was elected Monday by ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and representatives as the party’s new president, pledged to keep a good balance between fighting the coronavirus pandemic and promoting economic activities.

Suga is set to become prime minister on Wednesday after a vote in the Diet.

Calling the spread of the coronavirus a national crisis, Suga, 71, said, “We must inherit and promote the efforts that Prime Minister Abe has made so that people can overcome the crisis and live a safe and stable life.”

Suga also said he will proceed with government reforms and deregulation in Japan. “I’ll create a cabinet that works for people,” he said.

In a post-election press conference, Suga expressed his determination to push forward deregulation by including in his cabinet “reform-minded people who are found in various factions.”

“Since there is a change of prime minister, I will venture the promotion of people who are fit to carry out my policies,” he said, while expressing his intent to work toward launching a digital agency and tackle issues including revising the country’s Constitution.

Suga plans to retain LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama in an LDP leadership reshuffle Tuesday, LDP sources said.

Suga also intends to appoint Hakubun Shimomura, chairman of the party’s Election Strategy Committee, as chairman of the Policy Research Council, and Tsutomu Sato, a former internal affairs and communications minister, as chairman of the General Council, according to the sources.

In the press conference, Suga indicated he may not dissolve the lower house soon for a general election, saying, “I think it would be difficult unless experts view that the (virus) has been fully brought under control.”

“It is important to rebuild the economy while also containing the coronavirus at the same time. It’s not something I will do as soon as the virus is brought under control either,” he added.

Suga’s election as prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session on Wednesday is almost certain as the governing party controls the House of Representatives, the more powerful lower chamber, and holds a majority in the House of Councillors with its coalition partner Komeito.

While attention is now focused on the likely lineup of Suga’s cabinet, how long its members will remain in their positions is unclear.

Suga’s term as LDP president is limited to the remainder of Abe’s current three-year term through September 2021 and a lower house election must be held before Oct 21 that year.

The new prime minister will be tasked with challenges inherited from Abe in the diplomatic front, including dealing with China’s assertive actions in the East China Sea and building upon ties with the United States, which is holding its presidential election in November.

He will also have to decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which have been postponed one year to the summer of 2021 due to the pandemic.

Opposition parties want debate

The leader of Japan’s main opposition party Yukio Edano on Monday called for the immediate convening of an extraordinary parliamentary session to debate measures on the coronavirus pandemic.

Edano, who has been elected chief of a newly merged opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, dismissed the idea of a snap general election at which some LDP lawmakers had hinted. “Without parliamentary deliberations, we cannot meet the public mandate,” he told reporters.

Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii said at a press conference, “There is no future in continuing the path of (Prime Minister) Abe’s politics, which are clearly at an impasse.”

Yuichiro Tamaki, who currently heads the Democratic Party of the People, the second-largest opposition force that will be merged with the CDPJ, said it is necessary to create an environment in which the bureaucracy does not cower to the ruling party.

Tamaki, however, will not join the new party, which will be officially formed on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Nobuyuki Baba, secretary general of the Japan Innovation Party, expressed expectations of the new LDP leader, with whom he said he has a sense of affinity. “We share the same philosophy of breaking down vested interests and promoting deregulation,” he said.

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