Abe floats list of potential Japan PM candidates, seeing ‘plenty of talent’

Shinzo Abe, pictured here in a Nikkei interview as prime minister in 2020, has weighed on possible contenders to lead Japan. (Photo by Karina Noka)

RYO NEMOTO, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO — Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has weighed in on who should lead the country and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that he controlled for more than eight years, but polling suggests his views are out of step with the public’s preferences.

In an interview with the conservative Hanada monthly magazine released Wednesday, Abe named Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, party policy research chief Hakubun Shimomura and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida as potential candidates.

Abe stepped down as prime minister last year after a record-long tenure, citing health problems. Asked whether he himself might consider another run for leadership, he demurred. “There’s plenty of talent, so I’m not considering it at all,” he said.

Yet Abe received more support than any of his favored candidates in a Nikkei poll last month asking who the next prime minister should be.

Reform minister Taro Kono led the pack at 24%, followed by former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba at 16% and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi at 14%. Abe himself came in fourth with 8%. Kishida placed fifth at 5%, with current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga close behind at 4%.

Clockwise from top left: Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and LDP policy research chief Hakubun Shimomura.

On the reasoning behind each of his choices, Abe said of Motegi that “everyone recognizes his skills.” Kato was praised as “a rare sort of politician who supported me through thick and thin and quietly did his job without blowing his own horn.”

Abe highlighted Shimomura’s “hard work” on party affairs, and Kishida’s integrity and track record as foreign minister.

The former prime minister also reiterated his support for Suga’s administration, which has seen its approval rating slip below 50% due in large part to criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Noting that Suga has been in office for less than a year, Abe stressed that “administrations have ups and downs.”

“We should all just grit our teeth and support him,” he said.

Abe argued again that Suga should be reelected as LDP leader unopposed if the ruling party wins the next lower house election to be held this year. Suga has indicated he will dissolve the house for a snap election by the end of September.

A victory would amount to the public showing their support for the prime minister, Abe said.

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