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Japan: Yoshihide Suga formally elected prime minister to succeed Shinzo Abe

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Yoshihide Suga stands up after being elected as Japan's new prime minister at parliament's lower house in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.
Yoshihide Suga stands up after being elected as Japan's new prime minister at parliament's lower house in Tokyo, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Koji Sasahara
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Yoshihide Suga was formally elected Wednesday as Japan’s new prime minister in a parliamentary vote.

The 71-year-old is replacing Shinzo Abe, who resigned because of ill health. Suga had been chosen as the new head of the governing Liberal Democratic Party on Monday, virtually assuring his succession.

Suga, who was chief Cabinet secretary and long seen as Abe’s right-hand man, is to launch his own Cabinet later on Wednesday.

He has stressed his background as the son of a strawberry grower and a self-made politician, in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities.

The new prime minister has vowed to pursue Abe’s unfinished policies, adding that his top priorities will be fighting the coronavirus and turning around an economy battered by the pandemic.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, announced last month that he was stepping down because of health problems.

“I devoted my body and soul for the economic recovery and diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interest every single day since we returned to power,” he said, adding that his health was improving thanks to treatment.

Suga has been a loyal supporter of Abe since the former leader's first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007. Abe’s tenure ended abruptly because of illness, and Suga helped him return as prime minister in 2012.

The new prime minister says he is a reformer who will break down vested interests and rules that hamper reforms. He has vowed to set up a new government agency to speed up Japan’s lagging digital transformation.

Suga has said he will appoint “reform-minded, hard-working people” to the new Cabinet.