Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation on Friday, triggering a leadership race in the ruling party. Potential successors to Abe include Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief Fumio Kishida, former secretary general of the LDP Shigeru Ishiba, and Defense Minister Taro Kono.
Yoshihide Suga is thought to be the strongest candidate to succeed Abe. The Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday that members of the LDP are considering Suga as their candidate for the next prime minister despite his denial. Although Suga has never expressed his desire to be the next prime minister, a sudden resignation by Abe is making him a strong candidate for the next prime minister.
Suga has been responsible for the country’s crisis management as the Chief Cabinet Secretary since Abe began his second term in December 2012, becoming the person who can take over and run the cabinet in a time of crisis. “He has never belonged to a faction,” an LDP official said. “The ruling coalition Komeito party also says they are okay with Suga.”
Defense Minister Taro Kono has recently come into prominence, emerging as a dark horse. Kono, who is dubbed, “a renegade in the political hub of Nagata-cho,” has been vocal about sensitive issues, canceling plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, a decision that could damage Japan’s relations with the U.S. In surveys conducted by Mainichi Shimbun asking, “Who is the most suitable candidate for the next prime minister?,” Kono ranked third with an approval rating of 7 percent on June 20 but climbed a notch to No. 2 on Aug. 22 with an approval rating of 11 percent, closing the gap with No. 1 Ishiba, who earned an approval rating of 15 percent in both surveys.