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Japan PM Suga gets new nickname mocking his Stalin-like authoritarian manner

The new poster for the Liberal Democratic Party is displayed, following the appointment of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, at the party headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 13, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)
This image obtained in October 1941 shows Joseph Stalin, the then leader of the Soviet Union.

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga seems to have gained the new nickname "Sugalin," a play on Stalin, amid comparisons of the Japanese leader's authoritarian manner with that of the former dictator of the Soviet Union.

    Last year in an online program, Suga jokingly introduced himself as "Gasu," -- a humorously intended nickname achieved by flipping his surname's syllables. But he was subsequently met with criticism for "lacking any sense of alertness."

    One senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) divulged with a sigh, "I've heard that these days the prime minister is being called 'Sugalin' within the government. After all, he has fired officials he doesn't like one after the other."

    Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) was a Soviet leader who established a dictatorship under Communism with continuously imposed suppression and mounted purges, which gave rise to the term "Stalinism."

    During his tenure as chief Cabinet secretary, Suga removed a Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications official from a significant post after the bureaucrat expressed objection to the expansion of the hometown tax donation system that Suga had heavily promoted. Under the system, taxpayers nationwide can make donations to local governments of their choice.

    Regarding government officials who disagree with the administration's decisions, Suga stated clearly that he'll "have them transferred." Prime Minister Suga's refusal to appoint six scholars nominated as new members to the Science Council of Japan has also been a controversial issue. Furthermore, as for his approach to politics, rather than making decisions while consulting others around him, Suga is said to be the type to determine things on his own.

    The nickname "Gasu" has been used frequently online. The moniker "Sugalin" also seems to have been used in social media and other places, and appears to have become widespread since around autumn last year. In addition to Suga's image as an authoritarian figure who marshals personnel to his advantage, an LDP poster that shows Suga against a red background with the slogan, "Work for the Japanese people," has been pointed out as resembling images of Stalin with the red Soviet flag in the background, and has apparently been going viral.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen taking off his mask before talking to reporters about his meeting with Science Council of Japan President Takaaki Kajita, at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Oct. 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

    There have been numerous posts on Twitter with the hashtag "Sugalin." Stern views, such as "He sees to it that those who raise objections are thoroughly suppressed, obstructed, and eliminated," and "The officials who serve him are all yes-men," have been emerging one after the other since December.

    Columnist Takashi Odajima commented, "As Suga often uses the method of restraining officials through the management of personnel, he has created a dictatorlike impression. This probably overlaps with the image of Stalin." According to Odajima, terms related to Stalin were originally used among the left wing as an insult.

    "In the 70s, the term 'Stalin-like' was used when criticizing dictatorlike methods that used threats. It's very interesting that such a term is being used for the prime minister and head of the LDP," Odajima said.

    The columnist believes that the changing nature of the LDP is behind the nickname, and said, "There used to be tension within the LDP, as different factions pushed each other to improve. However, right now, the leading faction is overwhelmingly powerful, and has pushed aside figures from non-mainstream factions like former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba. Perhaps the administration is being viewed in the same way as the one-party dictatorship of the former Soviet Union."

    The senior LDP lawmaker who spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun said with a wry smile, "When they're really scared, government officials wouldn't use the nickname 'Sugalin.' The fact that this nickname is spreading itself is proof that Suga's authority has been declining."

    (Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department)

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