Linda Sieg and Yoshifumi Takemoto (Reuters)
Tokyo, Japan â
Mon 23 Aug 2021
Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appears increasingly vulnerable to a challenge within his party for the country’s top post after an ally was defeated in a local election on Sunday seen as a referendum on the Suga’s COVID-19 response.
If Suga loses, he would join a long list of short-term prime ministers. He took office in September after Abe left, citing poor health and ending a long sentence of almost eight years.
Suga, whose term as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ends next month, saw his support drop from around 70 percent to less than 30 percent, with a poll taken over the weekend by ANN The news puts support at 25.8% as Japan battles an explosive wave of COVID-19 infections.
On Monday, national media reported that former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is likely to run in the LDP leadership race.
The defeat of Hachiro Okonogi, son of Suga’s political mentor and former cabinet minister, in Sunday’s Yokohama mayoral election will most likely amplify calls to replace Suga ahead of the lower house elections due to take place. in November.
Opposition candidate for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Takeharu Yamanaka, a former public health professor, won a landslide in Suga constituency near Tokyo.
“The LDP is severely criticized in my constituency so it is very difficult to fight under Suga,” said a young LDP deputy from a conservative rural district, who declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the situation. .
Such opinions are expected to spread.
“Certainly the voices saying they cannot fight the general elections under Suga are going to get louder,” political analyst Atsuo Ito said. “The chances of multiple candidates (in the LDP race) will increase.”
Yet the uncertainty remains. Suga told reporters on Monday that there was no change in his plans to run for the LDP ballot. None of the party leaders who backed Suga last year have publicly withdrawn their support.
“We shouldn’t change the captain of the ship in the middle of a storm,” a senior PLD lawmaker said ahead of the mayor’s vote.
Scenarios include Suga losing the LDP race to a rival, losing early or winning the party vote, and retaining his job if the LDP’s losses in the lower house ballot are limited.
Suga’s electoral record is not good. Abe led his coalition to victory in six national elections, but Suga suffered by-election defeats and a lackluster result in a local ballot in Tokyo.
The four-year terms of members of the lower house end on October 21. An election for the chamber is due to take place by November 28, but is expected sooner.
Suga had hoped to contain the virus outbreak and call a general election after a successful Olympics. This scenario was turned upside down after a wave of COVID-19 led to a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo.
Alongside Kishida, former Home Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, a disciple of Abe, said she wanted to run, as did Seiko Noda, another ex-government minister. Both are seen as shots from afar, as is former Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura.
Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono, who is leading the late vaccination rollout in Japan, and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba topped the list of lawmakers voters prefer as the next prime minister, followed by Minister of ‘Environment Shinjiro Koizumi.
Kishida, once considered Abe’s heir, is at its lowest. Abe himself has single-digit support. Prime ministers have sometimes survived bad grades, but Suga is particularly threatened as his tenure as party chairman ends just as a general election looms.
The decisions of party leaders, including Abe, his ally Finance Minister Taro Aso, and their rival, PLD General Secretary Toshihiro Nikai, are of great importance. But young lawmakers may be more worried about losing their seats than following the party line.
These MPs “are very worried about their own elections. It is not known whether they would vote for Suga even if their faction leaders asked them to,” said analyst Ito.