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Japan’s Suga wins party leadership race, headed for premiership

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a loyal aide to outgoing prime minister Shinzo Abe, won a landslide victory in a ruling party leadership election on Monday, paving the way for Japan’s first change of leader in nearly eight years.

Suga, 71, who has promised to continue Abe’s main policies, said his big win would give him the backing to pursue his reform goals – including deregulation and breaking down bureaucratic silos – and that containing the novel coronavirus and reviving the economy were conditions for calling a snap general election.

“As I got big support in numbers today, the environment in which I can pursue my policy agenda in a stable manner has been secured,” Suga told a news conference.

Suga won 377 votes out of 534 votes cast, and 535 possible votes, in the leadership election by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members of parliament and representatives of its 47 local chapters.

Rival Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister, won 68 votes and ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida got 89.

Suga is virtually certain to be elected prime minister in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday because of the LDP’s lower-house majority. He will serve out Abe’s term as party leader through September 2021.

Suga had emerged as frontrunner after Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, said last month he would resign because of ill health, ending nearly eight years in office.

There is speculation Suga will call an election for the lower house of parliament as soon as next month to boost his chances of winning a full three-year term as LDP chief next year. A vote for the chamber must be held by late October 2021.

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