Planned launch of study group by Suga seen as move to boost clout in ruling LDP

Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is ready to resume political activities in earnest, having remained out of the limelight since his resignation in October last year.

“He is preparing to be a force to replace (Prime Minister Fumio) Kishida if his administration is shaken in this summer’s election for the House of Councillors,” a source close to Suga said.

Suga plans to create a study group by the end of this month, mainly comprising some 30 LDP lawmakers who are close to him and do not belong to any party factions.

His move to gather like-minded members is likely to cause a ripple within the party, where Suga was effectively forced by Kishida to give up his candidacy in the LDP presidential election in September last year.

“I want to launch a study group after the government’s fiscal 2022 budget is enacted,” Suga was quoted as telling those close to him.

The House of Councillors, the upper chamber of Japan’s parliament, is expected to enact the budget this month before fiscal 2022 begins in April.

The planned study group is likely to start as a loosely organized team, unlike the LDP’s existing factions or groups.

It will discuss ways to realize the target of making Japan carbon neutral by 2050, a goal Suga set during his administration. Another agenda item is support for fertility treatment, which was also a key Suga policy.

During his tenure as prime minister, Suga devoted his utmost efforts to the fight against the novel coronavirus. But the administration’s response was criticized as too slow.

After being forced to give up the government leadership abruptly, he looked dispirited for a while. But he is said to have regained his vigor after receiving a surprisingly large number of positive comments about his coronavirus measures when he conducted visits to rally support for candidates in the election for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, last year.

Currently, Suga is positioned as a nonmainstream party member in rivalry with Kishida. LDP members therefore see the launch of the study group as a preparation for future political developments, including the party’s possible defeat in the Upper House poll.

Even if the LDP wins and Kishida succeeds in establishing a solid foundation for a long-term government, Suga would be able to show a stronger presence if he leads a group.

There are already signs of gathering forces among like-minded members.

Tsutomu Sato, who served as LDP General Council chairman when Suga was in power, left the faction led by the party’s vice president, Taro Aso, on Feb. 25. Some party members see the move as a preparation for the creation of the Suga group.

Suga’s group is expected to include members of the factions led by former LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and Hiroshi Moriyama, executive acting chairman of the General Council, both of whom supported Suga when he was in office.

Suga’s group may even become the core of nonmainstream forces.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who backs the Kishida administration, has long proposed that Suga create a full-fledged faction to bring together LDP lawmakers not belonging to any existing factions.

For Abe, the group planned by Suga — who served as chief Cabinet secretary in the Abe administration — may contribute to increasing his own influence over the Kishida administration.

Those close to Kishida have been alarmed amid mounting speculation about Suga.

“Would it be really advantageous to work with Suga?” a member of the current Cabinet said.

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