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‘Uncle Reiwa’ is still not the front-runner to succeed Abe

12 1 0
26.05.2019

NIIGATA - The media is abuzz with reporting on Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. Ever since earning the nickname “Reiwa Ojisan” (“Uncle Reiwa”) by presenting Japan’s new era name on April 1, news outlets and television programs have been speculating that he could be the successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The media whirlwind continued as Suga made a rare trip overseas to Washington and New York earlier this month in what some labeled his diplomatic debut. Many people are now ready to call Suga the front-runner to replace Abe when his run finally ends, but I am not among them.

There is no doubt that Suga is a talented administrator — probably the most capable chief Cabinet secretary in postwar history — but he is not the first in line to become the next prime minister. First and foremost, Suga has not given any formal indication that he wants the job. Still, assuming he does, he has several problems.

He has an undefined policy platform and lacks the natural charisma of other candidates in the field. More importantly, he still needs to cobble together factional support within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to achieve numerical backing he simply does not have right now. At the end of the day, leadership of the government is a numbers game, and Suga will have to do much more politicking over the next couple of years to have a shot at succeeding Abe if that truly his intent.

Observers are not wrong to have confidence that Suga would make a capable prime minister. The chief Cabinet secretary is a challenging position that involves serving as both the prime minister’s chief spokesperson and the de facto No. 2 for government administration. Only a handful of Suga’s predecessors could excel at one role or the other, even fewer both, and almost none with the level of expertise that Suga has displayed.

He has shepherded an........

© The Japan Times