Yoshihide Suga formally voted in as Japan’s prime minister

Shinzo Abe’s successor appoints new cabinet and says priority is to tackle Covid-19 pandemic

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Yoshihide Suga is applauded after he was elected as Japan’s prime minister by the lower house of parliament in Tokyo. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Yoshihide Suga is applauded after he was elected as Japan’s prime minister by the lower house of parliament in Tokyo. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images.

 

Yoshihide Suga has appointed his new cabinet after a vote along party lines in both houses of the Diet confirmed him as the 99th prime minister of Japan.

Mr Suga (71) said his immediate priority would be to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic after succeeding Shinzo Abe, who stepped down as prime minister because of ill health.

Although Mr Suga has promised to be a reformer, he chose to retain numerous ministers from the Abe administration, a sign that he will place a high priority on political stability and continuity.

In his most striking appointment, Mr Suga chose Mr Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi as defence minister. He also signalled one of his reform priorities by appointing a cabinet minister responsible for digital policy.

Two power brokers in the ruling Liberal Democratic party – Taro Aso (79) and Toshihiro Nikai (81) – will remain as finance minister and LDP secretary-general respectively. Toshimitsu Motegi, foreign minister, and Yasutoshi Nishimura, economy minister, also stay in their posts.

The crucial role of chief cabinet secretary, a combination of press secretary and behind-the-scenes enforcer, went to Katsunobu Kato, the health minister. Mr Suga served as chief cabinet secretary in the Abe administration.

Despite Mr Suga’s promise to appoint reformers without consideration for party politics, his cabinet is carefully balanced across the LDP’s internal factions.

“It’s the cabinet of a newcomer who doesn’t want to risk any failures,” Jun Azumi, parliamentary chair of the opposition Constitutional Democratic party, told reporters.

Taro Kono (57) regarded as one of the favourites for a run at the premiership in future, will move from the defence ministry to become minister for administrative and regulatory reform. He will be charged with delivering on some of Mr Suga’s highest priorities.

Two women

Just two out of 21 cabinet members of Mr Suga’s cabinet are women: Yoko Kamikawa at the justice ministry and Seiko Hashimoto, who will be in charge of the Olympics. The imbalance continues the Abe administration’s weak record on promoting women into top cabinet jobs.

Yoichi Masuzoe, the former LDP minister and governor of Tokyo, said the new cabinet showed Mr Suga’s solicitude for his allies.

Not only is Mr Abe’s younger brother appointed defence minister, but Katsuei Hirasawa, Mr Abe’s childhood tutor, gets his first cabinet job at the age of 75.

The sons of two of Mr Suga’s political mentors will also join the cabinet. “The point is, are they up to the job?” asked Mr Masuzoe on Twitter.

The day began with a final meeting of the Abe cabinet before the former prime minister was clapped out of his official residence by staff in the early afternoon.

“For the last eight years or so, I’ve put everything into the challenges of governance and diplomacy,” said Mr Abe. “Unfortunately, many issues still remain, but there are things we achieved and made reality.”

He added: “I will do all I can to support the new government as a regular member of the Diet. As ever, I will devote all my efforts to the future of Japan. And to everyone in the country, thank you so much for the last eight years.”

The new government was expected to hold its first cabinet meeting late on Wednesday. - Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020