Japan's Yoshihide Suga has been voted prime minister by parliament to become the country's first new leader in nearly eight years, appointing a new cabinet that kept about half of the familiar faces from predecessor Shinzo Abe's line-up.
Suga won 314 votes out of 462 cast by parliament's lower house members on Wednesday. The chamber takes precedence in electing a premier over the upper house, which was also expected to pick Suga because of a ruling bloc majority.
Suga, 71, Abe's longtime right-hand man, has pledged to pursue many of Abe's programs, including his "Abenomics" economic strategy, and to forge ahead with structural reforms, including deregulation and shutting down bureaucratic turf battles.
Abe, Japan's longest-serving premier, resigned because of ill health after nearly eight years in office. Suga served under him in the pivotal post of chief cabinet secretary, acting as top government spokesman and coordinating policies.
Suga, who won a ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership race by a landslide on Monday, faces a plethora of challenges, including tackling COVID-19 while reviving a battered economy and dealing with a rapidly ageing society.
With little direct diplomatic experience, Suga must also cope with an intensifying US-China confrontation, build ties with the winner of the November 3 US presidential election and try to keep Japan's own relations with Beijing on track.
About half of the new cabinet are carryovers from Abe's administration. Only two are women and the average age, including Suga, is 60.
Among those retaining their jobs are key players such as Finance Minister Taro Aso and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, along with Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, the youngest at 39.
Abe's younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, was handed the defence portfolio, while outgoing Defence Minister Taro Kono takes charge of administrative reform, a post he has held before.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, Abe's point man on COVID-19 response, remains economy minister, while Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, the son of a politician to whom Suga looked up as his mentor, also retains his post.
Katsunobu Kato, outgoing health minister and a close Suga ally, takes on the challenging post of chief cabinet secretary. He announced the cabinet line-up.
In a move that resonates with voters, Suga has criticised Japan's top three mobile phone carriers, NTT Docomo Inc , KDDI Corp and SoftBank Corp, saying they should return more money to the public and face more competition.
He has said Japan may eventually need to raise its 10 per cent sales tax to pay for social security but not for the next decade.
Speculation has simmered that Suga might call a snap election for parliament's lower house to take advantage of any rise in public support, although he has said handling the pandemic and reviving the economy were his top priorities.
Australian Associated Press