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Japan’s new PM to be named in parliament on Sep 16

Yoshihide Suga. PHOTO: EPA-EFE. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, Sep 2, 2020, Kyodo. Japan’s new PM to be named in parliament on Sept. 16, Kyodo News reported.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided Wednesday to hold a presidential election on Sept. 14 to choose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s successor, with his longtime right-hand man Yoshihide Suga seemingly on course to secure about 70 percent of votes from fellow lawmakers.

The race for the party’s top post will officially kick off on Sept. 8 with members filing their candidacies from 10 a.m., and a new leader will be elected at a joint plenary meeting of LDP party members from both houses of the parliament to be held at a Tokyo hotel from 2 p.m. on Sept. 14.

The new LDP president will be anointed the country’s new prime minister at an extraordinary parliamentary session, possibly convened on Sept. 16, as the LDP controls the powerful lower house. The newly-elected leader will serve the remainder of Abe’s term as the president of the party through September 2021.

Suga, 71, who has been chief Cabinet secretary for nearly eight years and is seen as a continuity candidate, is scheduled to formally declare his candidacy at a press conference early Wednesday evening.

Two other contenders in the election, to be held following Abe’s announcement last Friday that he will resign as prime minister due to ill health, are former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Ishiba, 63, said on a TV program that “the odds are decisively against” him but maintained it is important for voters to consider Japan’s future under different potential prime ministers.

Kishida, 63, indicated on the same TV program that he has long-term aspirations, saying he is not running just to fill the post until next year’s election at the end of the current term.

In a departure from the regular process, the ruling party, with about 1.08 million members across the country, has decided to only allow 394 lawmakers and 141 delegates from local chapters to vote in the election.

Under normal circumstances, every member who has paid an annual membership fee of 4,000 yen for the past two years is given a vote.

But this time, despite some strong opposition within the party, LDP heavyweights decided to exclude rank-and-file members from casting ballots, reasoning that the process should be completed as quickly as possible to minimize the impact of Abe’s resignation on the nation’s coronavirus response.

The party’s decision to skip a full vote deals a blow to Ishiba who is regarded as Abe’s archrival within the LDP. Ishiba is the public’s preferred choice for the next leader in opinion polls and is popular among grassroots LDP members but lacks broad support among his fellow lawmakers.

In contrast, Suga has garnered the support of the major factions within the party, despite not belonging to one himself, even before announcing he will join the race.

A recent Kyodo News poll showed Ishiba was the most popular choice to be the next prime minister among the public, gaining the support of 34.3 percent of respondents, followed by Suga at 14.3 percent, Defense Minister Taro Kono at 13.6 percent, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi at 10.1 percent and Kishida at 7.5 percent.

Kono and Koizumi have said they will not enter the leadership race.

The LDP’s largest faction of 98 members, led by former party Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda, has decided to back Suga, as has the 54-member faction fronted by Finance Minister Taro Aso.

A 47-member group led by current LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai also plans to cast votes for Suga, as does a 54-member faction led by former reconstruction minister Wataru Takeshita, and an 11-member group led by former land minister Nobuteru Ishihara.

Kishida leads a faction with 47 members, while Ishiba’s faction has 19 members.

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