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Mr. Suga’s years as a shadow power in Japanese politics have made him a bit of a cipher. But his decisive victory in a party election demonstrated his formidable political skills.

Yoshihide Suga, 71, swept an election on Monday for the leadership of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, assuring him the prime ministership of Japan

 Yoshihide Suga has charted an unlikely course to the cusp of Japan’s premiership.

While most leading Japanese lawmakers come from elite political families, Mr. Suga is the son of a strawberry farmer and a schoolteacher from the country’s rural north. He’s known more for his expressionless recitations of government policy than any flashes of charisma. At 71, he’s even older than Shinzo Abe, who suddenly announced in late August that he was resigning as prime minister because of ill health.

Yet Mr. Suga, the longtime chief cabinet secretary to Mr. Abe, should have little trouble sliding into the job. He has vowed to pick up from where Mr. Abe left off, a gesture that reassured the nation after a string of revolving-door prime ministers. And in Japan, where stability often outweighs ideology, Mr. Suga appealed to a tradition-bound political establishment that resists change.

On Monday, Mr. Suga swept an election for the leadership of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party — which has governed Japan for all but four years since World War II — all but assuring that he will become prime minister after a vote in Parliament in the coming days.

Two weeks after Shinzo Abe said he would step down, Japan’s governing party picked a new leader.

Whether he ends up a caretaker leader or stays after a general election is likely to depend on his response to Japan’s immediate economic and geopolitical challenges. But for now, in quickly locking up what had initially seemed a wide-open contest, he has demonstrated the behind-the-scenes political skills he had honed while serving Mr. Abe for nearly eight years.


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