Undated photographs show (from left) Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party member Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and LDP member Shigeru Ishiba, who are contenders to replace Shinzo Abe, who announced his resignation on Aug 28 as the country’s prime minister. (PHOTO / AFP)
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 71, who officially announced his intention to run for leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept 2, has garnered support from a majority of the party’s lawmakers.
Fumio Kishida, 63, chairman of the LDP’s policy research council, and former LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba, 63, have also thrown their hats into the ring.
The one who wins the election, which is expected to take place on Sept 14, will succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced his resignation on Aug 28 due to health reasons.
On Aug 31, the 98-member faction led by former LDP secretary-general Hiroyuki Hosoda, the biggest force in the ruling party and Abe’s home faction, decided to support Suga, according to Jiji Press.
The Japanese news agency reported that the 54-member faction, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, also decided to stand behind Suga, following a similar move by the 47-member faction led by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.
A group of about 20 LDP lawmakers who do not belong to any faction is also poised to follow suit.
The LDP’s General Council decided on Sept 2 that ballots would be cast only by lawmakers of the parliament and delegates from the party’s local chapters, according to Kyodo News. Rank-and-file members will be excluded this time.
“A political vacuum should not be created, even for a moment,” Nikai told reporters on Sept 1. “We’ll elect a successor as soon as possible to prevent political stagnation.”
LDP presidential elections normally are held at the end of a party leader’s three-year term, and the voting involves lawmakers in parliament as well as rank-and-file party members, with both groups having an equal number of votes, 394.
But in times of emergency, such as when the party chief quits in the middle of a term, a scaled-down version of the election can be held with 394 votes from parliament members and 141 votes from the 47 prefectural chapters.
Some LDP heavyweights pointed to the fact that Abe is stepping down midterm, arguing the party needs to simplify the process of choosing his successor to minimize any sense of a political vacuum amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to Kyodo News.
“Suga, who has been Abe’s right-hand man for nearly eight years, is seen as a continuity candidate,” Kyodo News said.
Suga is expected to tell reporters that the current policies should be continued and the novel coronavirus thoroughly dealt with, according to the news agency.
Nikkei Asian Review also agreed that Suga is seen as a steady person who can ensure policymaking continuity and spare Japan from another succession of short-lived governments like those before Abe.
A poll conducted by Japanese newspaper Nikkei Shimbun over the weekend showed that voters prefer another stable leader to succeed Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
A majority, or 56 percent, of the interviewees said they want the next prime minister to serve at least four years, with 29 percent saying “as long as possible”. Just 19 percent hope for a caretaker who would stay only until the end of Abe’s unfinished term in September 2021.
The exclusion of rank-and-file members has drawn a backlash from within the LDP, with more than 145 lawmakers, including Shigeru Ishiba, who has a weak base of support in parliament but stronger backing among the party’s rank and file, signing a petition calling for a full vote.
“We need a strong leader with broad-based support,” said Fumiaki Kobayashi, who is calling for allowing rank-and-file party members to vote in the upcoming leadership election.
As the LDP controls a majority in parliament, the winner of the election will go on to be anointed prime minister at a special session of parliament to be held as early as Sept 16.
HONG KONG NEWS