Suga elected Japan's 99th prime minister

Yoshihide Suga walking in a room filled with men wearing face masks

Yoshihide Suga had been the chief cabinet secretary and was long seen as Mr Abe's right-hand man

Japan's Yoshihide Suga was voted prime minister by parliament's lower house on Wednesday, becoming the country's first new leader in almost eight years, as he readied a "continuity cabinet" expected to keep about half of predecessor Shinzo Abe's lineup. He thanked the public for its support and said his health condition is improving.

Abe attended his final cabinet meeting on Tuesday, making an impassioned statement on his time leading the nation as lawmakers prepare for a vote to confirm a new premier.

The new leader, who was chief Cabinet secretary in the Abe government, has stressed his background as a farmer's son and a self-made politician in promising to serve the interests of ordinary people and rural communities.

He says he will push forward Abe's policies to deal with the coronavirus and revitalize the economy.

Suga gained the support of party heavyweights and their followers early in the campaign on expectations he would continue Abe's line. Abe's tenure ended abruptly because of illness, and Suga helped him return as prime minister in 2012. He said last month his condition has improved but, facing ongoing treatment and physical weakness, he chose to resign.

Lee was prime minister in October when he attended the formal enthronement ceremony of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and also held talks with Abe.

"The ambition of Mr. Suga to speed up and reinvigorate the process (of reform) is absolutely clear, but the next layer of personnel will be interesting", he said.

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

Suga, who on Monday was elected leader of the LDP, is viewed as a continuity candidate and has said his run was inspired by a desire to pursue Shinzo Abe's policies.

Katsunobu Kato, outgoing health minister and a close Suga ally, takes on the challenging post of chief cabinet secretary.

Suga's cabinet is expected to bring few surprises, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Finance Minister Taro Aso expected to stay on in their jobs.

Compared with his political prowess at home, Suga has hardly traveled overseas and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Abe's priorities.

Suga faces numerous challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, a slumping economy and China's actions in the East China Sea.

There too, experts say, he is likely to tread the path charted by Abe, prioritising the key relationship with the United States, whoever is president after November's election.

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