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Suga is favorite as opposition picks new leader

TOKYO: Yukio Edano (left), head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), and Kenta Izumi (right), policy chief of the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), raise their hands following a vote for the leadership of a new main opposition party in Tokyo yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga is the voters’ favorite to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to a poll published by the daily Mainichi Shimbun yesterday, amid speculation over an early general election. About 44 percent of respondents, asked whom they would pick as Abe’s successor, said they would choose Suga, while 36 percent favored former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba. Suga held a clearer lead among supporters of the leading Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The poll, taken by the newspaper and Social Survey Research Centre, is the latest to show the chief cabinet secretary as the most popular candidate among ordinary voters. The LDP leadership election will be held on Sept 14, with LDP lawmakers and regional party representatives casting votes. The winner – who will serve the rest of Abe’s term as party chief, which ends in September 2021 – is virtually assured of becoming premier because of the LDP’s majority in parliament.

The surge in the popularity of Suga, who has served as chief cabinet secretary under Abe and has said he would pursue his boss’s key policies, is stoking speculation about a snap election for parliament’s lower house as early as next month. No election is mandated until October 2021, but Suga may call a vote while his ratings are high to try to improve his chances of winning a full three-year term as party leader next year.

Defense Minister Taro Kono, in an online event sponsored by a US think tank, said on Wednesday an election was expected “probably sometime in October”, domestic media reported. Talk of a general election has added urgency to efforts by the fragmented opposition to unify, pushing the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) to merge with former colleagues in the Democratic Party for the People (DPP). The two groups emerged when the Democratic Party of Japan, which held government from 2009-2012, split in 2017.

Yesterday, the new party picked CDPJ leader Yukio Edano as its leader and voted to retain the CDPJ label for the new party. Edano urged the government to open an extra session of parliament for debate but added: “If for their own selfish reasons they run away from this, we will face them head on and give the people a choice.” The new CDPJ will have 149 incumbents members of parliament, compared with the LDP’s nearly 400. Support for the LDP dwarfs that for the new opposition group, although the merger has improved its backing.

A Kyodo news agency survey released on Wednesday showed 48.1 percent would vote for the LDP against 15.7 percent for the merged party, up from just 4 percent who backed the CDPJ in a recent poll. – Reuters

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