TOKYO (Reuters) – Yoshihide Suga, the right-hand man of Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has emerged as the favourite to replace him. Following is a list of the advisers, friends and supporters who may help Suga frame the policies of the new government if he wins the party leader elections on Monday.
Takenaka, 69, a well-known economist and retired politician, is currently a member of government panel on “investments for the future”. He has had close ties to Suga since the early 2000s, when Suga was the senior vice minister of internal affairs and communications under Takenaka.
Takenaka, who played a key role in battling Japan’s domestic banking crisis in the late 1990s, has told Reuters the country’s central bank should play a bigger role in responding to the pandemic.
He also proposed setting up an agency to promote digitalization, a policy Suga has touted in recent speeches, saying it would help bring down barriers between the government’s various departments.
Takenaka is chairman of staffing agency Pasona Group.
Izumi, 67, has worked as a special adviser to Abe and as director-general at the Office of Healthcare Policy at the Cabinet Secretariat headed by Suga since 2013. Izumi is a long-time bureaucrat with expertise in housing and urban planning.
He has worked closely with Suga on a wide range of issues from inbound tourism promotion to U.S. military bases in Okinawa and the two men have known each other for several decades. In 2016, Izumi helped lead a cross-ministerial task force organised by Suga to study privatisation of public airports and ports to boost inbound tourism.
Kitao, 69, runs Japanese financial giant SBI Holdings and is a vocal enthusiast of blockchain technology. Suga and Kitao have discussed reforming regional banks and building a financial hub outside Tokyo, Kitao has said, adding that the two enjoy a close relationship. Suga has praised Kitao’s idea of a regional bank shake-up.
Yano, 57, is the head of the finance ministry’s powerful budget bureau. He served as Suga’s secretary for more than two years starting in late 2012. He is close to Suga, although he does not hesitate to openly disagree with him, local media have reported.
Yano spoke in favour of raising Japan’s consumption tax in 2016 and praised Abe’s economic policies for a positive impact on jobs. After several delays, Abe raised consumption tax to 10 percent last October. Yano also said Japan must tackle its low birth rate and revitalise rural economies, echoing Suga’s views.
Niinami, 61, heads Suntory Holdings, a top Japanese alcohol and beverage maker, and is an economic adviser to Abe. Niinami sees eye-to-eye with Suga on a range of economic policies, including wage hikes, according to a source familiar with the executive’s relationship with Suga.
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Niinami said Japan has to be consistent on the need to promote free trade.
Atkinson, 55, a former banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, now runs of a company that repairs shrines and temples across Japan. Among his various advisory roles on tourism and culture, he is a member of the cabinet’s tourism strategy promotion council led by Suga. Atkinson helped craft Suga’s policy promoting inbound tourism, Nikkei daily has reported. Suga has highlighted it as one of his major achievements that has helped spur growth and revitalise local economies.
Adachi, 60, is a member of Japan’s upper house of parliament and advises Suga on policies related to the economy and diplomacy, he told Reuters last week.
Formerly an employee of a major trading house in Japan and a registered New York State lawyer, Adachi helped Abe arrange an early meeting with the United States President Donald Trump in 2016, sources close to Suga said. He also helped plan Suga’s trip to Washington last year when he met senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, the sources said.
Suga does not belong to any of the traditional ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s factions, but has groups of supporters, many of whom are outside factions as well.
MP Manabu Sakai, former deputy finance minister, launched a group of about 15 lawmakers called “Ganesha”, after a Hindu god worshiped as a destroyer of obstacles. A separate group of ten lawmakers formed another organization and named it after the new imperial era called “Reiwa”. Suga went viral last year after he unveiled the name to the public.
Reporting by Ju-min Park, Yosifumi Takemoto, Mari Saito and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Antoni Slodkowski and Gerry Doyle