Japan: the race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on

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Tokyo | In the aftermath of the surprise announcement of the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the race against time to succeed him began on Saturday with the first candidates having started to appear within his party.

In power since the end of 2012, Mr. Abe, 65, said Friday that he planned to throw in the towel, weakened by the return of a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or ulcerative colitis.

This disease had already been one of the reasons for the precipitous end of his first term as Prime Minister in 2007, after barely a year in office.

However, Abe said he would remain in his post until his successor was appointed.

The modalities of this process were not yet decided. According to the Japanese press, several options were under consideration.

Mr Abe’s political formation, the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), could choose a new leader by organizing a classic internal election, involving both his parliamentarians and all party members at the national level.

But faced with the urgency of the situation and the constraints linked to the coronavirus pandemic preventing large gatherings, the PLD could resort to a reduced and accelerated electoral process, where only its parliamentarians and regional elected representatives would be invited to participate.

Taro Aso gives up

The modalities of the ballot should be determined in the course of next week. Depending on the method chosen, some candidates would be more favored than others.

A few have already entered the arena, such as LDP political strategy chief Fumio Kishida, 63, a rather low-key former foreign minister who was long considered Mr Abe’s favorite to succeed him.

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 63, is also already in the running. Mainly popular with the grassroots of the PLD, he would risk being at a disadvantage in the event of a reduced vote among the elected members of the party.

Veteran Taro Aso, 79, current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, has however announced that he will not be running.

Other potential candidates include the powerful secretary general of Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, Yoshihide Suga, 71, considered by many to be the favorite in the election, as well as the current defense minister Taro Kono, 57.

Only one woman is likely to enter the running: former minister Seiko Noda, 59, but her chances are judged slim, as are those of Mr Kono.

“Temp worker”

Regardless of who wins the PLD election, no major policy changes are expected anytime soon, observers say.

“Key policies – diplomacy and economic measures – will not change drastically,” said Shinichi Nishikawa, professor of political science at Meiji University in Tokyo, interviewed by AFP.

Mr Abe’s successor could only be an “interim” providing a transitional phase, said Mr Nishikawa. Because the PLD must organize another internal election in September 2021, with legislative elections most likely the following month.

However, the future prime minister will have to take up “major challenges”, warns Yoshinobu Yamamoto, professor emeritus of international politics at the University of Tokyo.

The most immediate will be the management of the coronavirus pandemic in Japan, for which the government of Mr. Abe had been very criticized in recent months because of its many procrastination and boondoggles.

Another hot issue is diplomatic relations with China. Ties between Tokyo and Beijing had warmed up a bit in recent years, but growing Sino-U.S. Tensions, the national security law imposed on Hong Kong, and blame for China over the pandemic have given fresh chill. .

Mr Abe will also step down from office as the fate of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, postponed to summer 2021, still seems uncertain in the face of the global upsurge in the COVID-19 disease.

The new prime minister will also inherit a difficult economic situation in Japan, which had fallen into recession even before the health crisis.

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