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What’s in store for Japan’s new leader
The Japanese Parliament on Wednesday officially elected Yoshihide Suga to be the prime minister, replacing Shinzo Abe, who led the country for nearly eight years. I talked to Motoko Rich, our Tokyo bureau chief, about the man taking the helm of the world’s third biggest economy.
Was Yoshihide Suga a well-known figure in Japan before becoming prime minister?
Motoko: Mr. Suga was the chief cabinet secretary, effectively the chief of staff, to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In that role, Mr. Suga gave two daily news conferences, so he is a familiar face on the news. He also gained prominence last year when he unveiled a calligraphic rendering of “Reiwa,” the name chosen for the incoming era of Emperor Naruhito, earning him the nickname Uncle Reiwa. There are spoofs all over the internet.
Do you sense any trepidation among the Japanese?
Mr. Abe resigned because of ill health, and he and the Liberal Democratic Party kingmakers effectively handed the reins to his right-hand man. Mr. Suga has said he will keep all of Mr. Abe’s signature policies in place. He has retained the majority of Mr. Abe’s cabinet. So in that sense, it is very much the status quo.
What will be his toughest challenge?
Like virtually every other leader in the world, he has to get the coronavirus under control and help a battered economy. But he also faces rising security threats from North Korea and China, Japan’s largest trading partner.
Then there are the long-term structural issues: a low birthrate, an aging population, climate change and women who had been promised empowerment under Mr. Abe but are still waiting on many fronts.
And his first order of business?
To try to get the economy back on its feet. And to decide whether to call a snap election that could consolidate his power and give him a chance at being more than a caretaker leader.
That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a wonderful Thursday.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
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