The five candidates to succeed Shinzo Abe and lead Japan, the world’s third largest economic power

The five candidates to succeed Shinzo Abe and lead Japan, the world's third largest economic power
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to resign due to health problems (Franck ROBICHON / POOL / AFP)

The surprise resignation of the prime minister, suffering from health problems, has started the race to find a replacement

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abewho resigned on Friday due to health problems, has dominated Japanese politics for years, making it difficult for his future successors to raise their profiles, leaving no clear favourite to succeed him.

Several veteran lawmakers from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party are likely to compete for the vacant seat. The former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who has criticized Abe for implementing policies favouring the rich people in the cities, tops the list in public opinion polls as his successor.

On the other hand, among those loyal to Abe, would be his Finance Minister, Taro Aso; his former Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida; his Defense Minister, Taro Kono; and his chief of staff Yoshihide Suga, who are also potential contenders.

It is highly probable that there will be no major changes in government policies since there is only one year left for him to complete his term and go to elections. An emergency clause contemplated in the Constitution will be appealed, where it will be in charge of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has been in power for years in Japan, to elect a new leader who will later be legitimized by Parliament in September.

One could choose to advance the elections to be held in September 2021, but this is unlikely, even more so with the Covid-19 as a backdrop.

These are the profiles of those who could succeed him as Prime Minister of Japan, the third world economic power behind the United States and China:

Shigeru Ishiba

The 63-year-old former hardline defense minister and critic of Abe regularly tops voter polls but is less popular with party lawmakers (LDP).

This soft-spoken security expert has held positions in agriculture and reviving local economies.

Taro Aso

The 79-year-old finance minister also serves as deputy prime minister. He has been a central member of the Abe administration. Without a clear consensus on who should succeed Abe, LDP lawmakers could choose Aso as a temporary leader in the absence of Abe.

Grandson of a former prime minister, Aso mixes political experience with a fondness for comics and a tendency to make mistakes.

Fumio Kishida

Aged 63, he served as Abe’s foreign minister from 2012-2017, though diplomacy remained primarily in the prime minister’s hands.

The current Hiroshima lawmaker has been seen as Abe’s preferred successor but ranks low in voter polls.

Taro Kono

The 56-year-old defense minister has a reputation for being a nonconformist, but he has stayed true to Abe’s key policies, including a tough stance on a dispute with South Korea over the history of the war.

Educated at Georgetown University and fluent in English, he previously served as Foreign Minister and Minister of Administrative Reform.

Yoshihide Suga

He was chief of staff until a few months ago with a very low profile. This changed in April this year when millions of Japanese citizens saw him announce the name of the new Reiwa era at a televised press conference. That scene is now an archival video that will undoubtedly play over and over again for months and years to come.

Another strong point is its ability to deal with bureaucracy by collecting information independently rather than accepting the ministries’ conclusions at the face value. Most likely, as Abe’s trusted man, the balance will tip over this candidate.