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Editorial: Is Suga merely intent on taking over PM Abe's political agenda?

As the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) braces for its presidential election following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement of his intention to step down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has been touted as a post-Abe hopeful, has found himself in a comfortable position ahead of the start of election campaigning on Sept. 8, having quickly gained the backing of most LDP factions.

    While former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba and Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida have also thrown their hats in the ring, at this rate, the election could become a throwaway match with the outcome already decided. The coming election is being called amid the coronavirus crisis, but the way chosen to pick Abe's successor cannot be tolerated.

    At a news conference to announce his candidacy, Suga underscored that he would succeed Abe's politics and push that agenda forward if he is elected to the LDP presidency -- and thus becomes Japan's prime minister. It is only natural for Suga to aspire to inherit the Abe regime considering his position as chief Cabinet secretary, who has taken charge of the nerve center of the Abe administration.

    However, it is essential for the Abe government that spanned seven years and eight months to be properly evaluated before Japan moves forward with a new leader. And yet Suga's statement is tantamount to saying there were no problems with Abe's governance.

    The government's response to the coronavirus has been lagging behind and has often been a far cry from what the public expects. The "Abenomics" economic policy mix promoted by the Abe administration has also betrayed its own limits since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The change of prime minister ought to provide a favorable opportunity for the government to revise these policy measures.

    Among the focal points of contention in the LDP leadership race are Prime Minister Abe's favoritism scandals involving nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by Abe's close friend, as well as allegations surrounding the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties hosted by the prime minister. In the Moritomo scandal, the Finance Ministry tampered with public documents regarding the massively discounted sale of state-owned land to the Osaka-based school operator.

    Abe himself was implicated in all of these scandals, posing a problem that could rock the foundations of democratic politics. And yet, questions surrounding those scandals have yet to be resolved even today. We must not allow the questions to remain unanswered simply because Abe is resigning.

    Regarding the Moritomo scandal, Ishiba pointed to the necessity to reinvestigate the issue, while Kishida has also called for further explanation. However, Suga snubbed those calls, saying that "We have already come to a conclusion." This could only deepen public distrust in the administration.

    After Suga announced his candidacy in the LDP race, the chairmen of the party's three major factions, led respectively by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and former LDP General Council Chairman Wataru Takeshita, held a joint news conference. The sight of the three political heavyweights meeting the press together appeared bizarre.

    At the press conference, Aso hinted at his displeasure with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who chairs the Nikai faction, over his swift move to support Suga in the race. Behind Aso's gesture lies his apparent desire to thwart Nikai from taking the initiative in post-race personnel affairs, including the formation of the new Cabinet after Suga's possible election as party president.

    These LDP factions are apparently more intent on finding out what power balance they would see within the party in the future, rather than engaging themselves in policy debate. The factional struggle over key posts, in apparent disregard of the public view, can also be said to represent the arrogance stemming from Abe's prolonged administration.

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