TOKYO, Sept. 17 (Reuters) – Candidates for Japanese prime minister officially kick off their campaigns on Friday, with popular Vaccine Minister Taro Kono set to be the main candidate to replace Yoshihide Suga.
The leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took an unexpected turn two weeks ago when Suga announced he would step down, sparking a heated fight.
The winner of the September 29 elections will become prime minister by virtue of the party majority in the lower house of parliament.
The LDP’s image has been tarnished by public perceptions that Suga messed up his handling of COVID-19. After a year in office, the members of the party aspire to a new face to lead them to victory in the legislative elections expected within two months.
The popular Kono, whose resume is strewn with jobs including foreign affairs and defense portfolios, takes on former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi, who held the post of the Home Office, and Seiko Noda, a former Minister of Gender Equality.
Unlike last year’s race, grassroots PLD members will join lawmakers in voting.
Media-savvy and US-trained Kono, 58 years old for a Japanese prime minister, is widely regarded as the frontrunner due to his popularity with the public, who regularly choose him as their favorite for the post of prime minister . Investors have also recently warmed Kono at Kishida’s expense.
His chances were boosted this week when PLD heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, who is popular with the party base and who had considered his own candidacy, lent his support to Kono.
But Kono has a reputation for being a maverick, and elders of the faction-dominated LDP might prefer the soft-spoken 64-year-old Kishida, who is from one of the party’s conciliatory factions, in because of the perception that he might be better than Kono at reaching consensus. .
Takaichi, 60, who aims to become Japan’s first female prime minister, is a disciple of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s oldest prime minister and a member of the most conservative wing of the PLD.
Noda, 60, who joined the race on Thursday after securing the support of the 20 lawmakers required to throw his hat into the ring, is seen as a long shot. But it could have a disproportionate impact on the race by making it more difficult for a candidate to win a majority in the first round.
On economic policy, where Japan is struggling to recover from successive waves of the coronavirus, Kono wants any other stimulus to prioritize renewables and the expansion of 5G grids, while Kishida says the Japan should strive to adopt a new form of capitalism to reduce income disparities.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard
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