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Japan’s ruling party votes for new leader who will almost certainly be next PM By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: The candidates for the president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are seen with paper with the words and sign they want before a session at the Japan National Press Club on September 18, 2021, Tokyo. The contenders are (L to

By Antoni Slodkowski and Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s ruling party votes for a new leader on Wednesday who will almost certainly become the next prime minister ahead of a general election due in weeks and with the economy staggering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taro Kono (58), who is a U.S.-educated ex-defense and foreign minister and seen as a maverick, and Fumio Kishida (64) who has a bland reputation and was a consensus builder, are the candidates for the top job. Sanae Takaichi, 60 an ultraconservative and Seiko Nada (61) from the party’s shrinking liberal wings.

The party’s lawmakers will vote at 1:20 p.m. Japan (0400 GMT), at a Tokyo hotel. The results from the ballots of lawmakers and rank-and-file members are expected to be released at 2:20 pm.

Even though it seems unlikely, a candidate who wins a clear majority will be declared the winner.

The top two candidates from the first round of voting will automatically go to a second round. The results of the second round of voting are expected around 3:40 p.m.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, his support in tatters ahead of the election, in a surprise move said he would step down after only a year as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader at a scheduled Sept. 29 party vote.

As the LDP has a strong majority in parliament’s lower house, the new chief of the party is likely to be the next prime minister. However, the election created uncertainty and political instability in Japan by having four candidates.

LDP factions rallied to Suga last year after Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister, quit his eight-year-long tenure citing ill–health. Suga’s handling of the pandemic caused him to lose his popularity and he announced his resignation ahead of an election scheduled for Nov. 28.

The race for the next country leader seems too close this time.

While Kono leads in public polls with the largest numbers, Kishida is ahead among lawmakers according to projections. This could be because senior party bosses consider him more stable.

The primary challengers must attract the votes of grassroots LDP members as well as rookie legislators. These voters have been a strong force during the campaign leading up to the election and are likely to vote for them.

The second round vote will give parliamentarians more weight, so rank-and-file voters won’t have as much say.

This shift in the voting dynamic gives Kishida a competitive advantage against Kono. Sankei Newspaper reports that Takaichi has agreed to back Kishida in case there is a run-off.

While a win by Kono, or Kishida would not likely result in a major shift in Japan’s policies to deal with China assertively and revitalize an economy devastated by the pandemic and its associated economic downturns, Kono has been appealing to business leaders and investors through his push for renewable energy as well as to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles that could hinder reform.

Takaichi is more vocal on pressing issues like acquiring the capability to strike enemy rocket launchers. Also, Takaichi has stated that, as prime minister, she would visit Yasukuni Shrine to war dead. It is regarded in Beijing and Seoul, as a symbol for Japan’s former militarism. Kono said that he wouldn’t.

Kono supported legal changes to permit same-sex marriage. Takaichi, on the other hand, was against Kono’s preference for separate surnames and separate surnames.

Kono and Kishida both pointed out the failings of Abe’s “Abenomics”, a combination of expansionary fiscal, monetary and growth strategies to benefit households. However Takaichi, who has modeled her “Sanaenomics” on Abe’s blueprints for success.

Ryutaro Kono (OTC) said that while the pandemic may not be contained for some time, Japan’s next prime Minister will keep the current expansionary economic policy.

“Regardless of who becomes Japan’s next prime minister, the current expansionary fiscal and monetary policies will continue for at least another year because of the pandemic,” he said.