Yoshihide Suga becomes Japan's new prime minister

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Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election in Japan - Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference as he elected as new head of Japan's ruling party at the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership election. - -/ZUMA Wire/dpa

The Japanese parliament confirmed ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Yoshihide Suga as the country's 99th prime minister on Wednesday, with the new premier facing the immediate challenge of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic at home and a battered economy.

Suga, who won a resounding victory in the LDP leadership race on Monday, was approved by both chambers of the parliament which is controlled by the LDP and junior coalition partner Komeito.

The 71-year-old, who has pledged to continue predecessor Shinzo Abe's policies, formed a new cabinet, reappointing many of the members under Abe such as Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also retained his post as deputy prime minister.

Suga, who is not from a political family unlike Abe, tapped hereditary lawmakers for his cabinet posts, such as Taro Kono, ex-defence minister, who serves as administrative reform minister.

Kono’s father Yohei Kono was a long-time speaker of the House of Representatives.

Suga also named Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, as defence minister.

"I will create a cabinet that works for the people," Suga said on Monday.

The governing coalition has vowed to promote “women’s active participation” for years, however, of the 20 new members, only two women will participate in Suga's cabinet, compared with three under Abe.

The two women named by Suga are Yoko Kamikawa, who becomes justice minister, and Seiko Hashimoto, who retained her post as Olympic minister.

Suga also reappointed Toshihiro Nikai as the LDP’s secretary general while naming four men for the party’s four other top jobs.

The line-up attracted criticism from some observers.

“The LDP is not political party anymore. It is a club for selfish old men for selfish old families,” Michael Thomas Cucek, assistant professor of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, wrote on Twitter.

Suga, who served as chief cabinet secretary after Abe took office in late 2012, has said that the virus represented an "unprecedented national crisis."

He vowed to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus while protecting jobs and restoring the economy, which has been hard hit by the pandemic.

Japan has so far confirmed more than 77,000 coronavirus infections and about 1,480 Covid-19-related deaths.

Some experts and opposition lawmakers criticized Abe’s government for limiting tests and urged Suga to ramp up testing capacities.

Rocked by the pandemic and a consumption tax increase last year, the economy shrank a record annualized 28.1 per cent in the April-to-June period, marking the third straight quarterly contraction.

Suga, who has no economic background, promised to continue supporting the former premier’s “Abenomics” economic policy, which is based on the “three arrows” of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.

The new prime minister has yet to propose any major new ideas to help the economy.

In late August, Abe announced that he was stepping down after he was diagnosed with a recurrence of an intestinal illness called ulcerative colitis.

In July 2007, the disease forced Abe to abruptly quit as prime minister only one year into the job. He returned to power in 2012.