Fumio Kishida is one step away from becoming Japan’s next prime minister after his election Wednesday as leader of the country’s long-serving ruling party.
The 64-year-old Kushida, a former foreign minister, defeated vaccination minister Taro Kono in the second round of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party leadership vote held at a Tokyo hotel. Kushida and Kona advanced to the runoff after neither man won a majority of the vote in the first round, with Kushida barely edging Kona by a vote of 256-255.
Kono and Kishida are considered the leading contenders to replace Suga, who is stepping down due to public anger over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically his insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this past summer while Japan was in the throes of a growing surge of new infections.
Suga has only been in office a year after succeeding Shinzo Abe, who stepped down citing ill-health.
Kono is the leading candidate in voter opinion polls, but Kishida is more popular among the party lawmakers. The ultra-conservative Takaichi has received the backing of former Prime Minister Abe, which could make her Japan’s first female prime minister. Noda, the second woman in the race, has little support in the party.
The LDP’s grassroots members and parliamentarians will vote in the initial round of balloting. If the vote ends with neither candidate winning an outright majority, the top two candidates will move on to a second-round, where parliamentarians will have a bigger role in the final outcome.
The party winner will likely become Japan’s new prime minister when the full parliament meets on October 4 to officially vote on Suga’s successor.
The new prime minister will only be in office a month before he or she leads the party in the next general elections set for November 28.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.