The Week of 13 September 2020

Suga Yoshihide was elected as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in an overwhelming victory on 14 September. Two days later, he was selected by the Diet as Japan’s ninety-ninth prime minister, at which point a new cabinet of twenty – two larger than the cabinet it replaced – was officially sworn into office.

Not surprisingly, the prime minister’s first four days in office were dominated by ceremonial activities.

A few items of interest from Suga’s first days in office:

  • While the prime minister has been gradually conducting one-on-one meetings with cabinet ministers – starting with Administrative Reform Minister Kōno Tarō, Digital Reform Minister Hirai Takaya, and Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Tamura Norihisa on Thursday and continuing with Internal Affairs Minister Takeda Ryota, Education Minister Hagiuda Kōichi, and World’s Fair/Cool Japan Minister Inoue Shinji on Friday – a greater share of his time has been spent with the chief cabinet secretary, deputy chief cabinet secretaries, assistant chief cabinet secretaries, and assorted prime ministerial aides. As we watch how the Suga administration settles into power, it is important to watch Suga’s relationship with this group, which includes both political appointees and bureaucrats. This core group functioned as Abe’s inner circle and Suga will likely depend on it to wield power as prime minister.
  • There was comparatively little time devoted to any particular policy area. In national security, he met with key national security officials including Kitamura Shigeru, the national security advisor; Kihara Minoru, the prime minister’s special advisor for national security (an LDP Diet member); Takizawa Hiroaki, the director of cabinet intelligence; and Akiba Takeo, the administrative vice minister of foreign affairs. On economic policy, the most significant meeting Suga had was a breakfast meeting Friday with Tōyō University Professor Takenaka Heizō, Koizumi Junichirō’s onetime economic reform czar.
  • Perhaps the most interesting meeting of the week was Suga’s first meeting of his first full day as prime minister, a breakfast meeting on Thursday, 17 September with “election planner” Miura Hiroshi, a meeting that instantly fueled speculation about the likelihood of an early snap election.
  • ORIGAMI watch: ORIGAMI, the restaurant at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu where Suga has been a fixture for years, has already appeared three days on his schedule: breakfast and dinner Thursday, lunch on Saturday. Expect it to appear regularly in the digest. It is, after all, conveniently located near his office.

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