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Yoshihide Suga Becomes Japanese Prime Minister as Abe Era Ends

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TOKYO—Yoshihide Suga was elected Japan’s first new prime minister in almost eight years, ushering in a rare period of political uncertainty as the country seeks to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, navigate rising U.S.-China tensions and prepare for the Olympics in Tokyo next year.

Mr. Suga, 71 years old, won a vote in Parliament that was largely a formality after he was selected to head the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Monday. Fewer than three weeks ago, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe abruptly said he would resign because of poor health. He made clear for the first time that he viewed Mr. Suga, a close aide, as his preferred successor.

Since then, Mr. Suga has undergone a rapid image makeover from a tough backroom enforcer of Mr. Abe’s policies to a warmer rallying figure best equipped to continue the legacy of Mr. Abe, who had been in power for a second time since 2012 and was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Mr. Suga’s ties to Mr. Abe helped him win the overwhelming support of the LDP.

By signaling that he will maintain Mr. Abe’s core policies, including a strong alliance with the U.S. and generous government spending, Mr. Suga aims to avoid the political instability that dogged Japan before Mr. Abe, with a series of prime ministers forced out of office by plummeting approval ratings after short periods in power.

Mr. Suga’s choices for cabinet ministers reflect his emphasis on continuity with Mr. Abe: 11 out of 19 ministers from Mr. Abe’s last cabinet are set to remain in the new one, either in their current positions or new roles, according to public broadcaster NHK. As it was with Mr. Abe’s last cabinet, Mr. Suga has selected only two women, NHK reported.

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