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Candidates for Prime Minister of Japan promise to create a more united nation

Candidates for Prime Minister of Japan promise to create a more united nation

  • The leadership party’s leadership race begins
  • New party leader will be PM
  • Four candidates in races
  • The candidates promise to end divisions, fight COVID-19
  • Vaccine Minister Kono is considered a top competitor

TOKYO, September 17 (Reuters) – Candidates to become Japan’s next prime minister officially launched their campaigns on Friday, promising to create a more united nation by tackling challenges such as income disparities, the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

The leadership race of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took an unexpected turn two weeks ago when Yoshihide Suga said he would resign, after just one year as prime minister, and set in motion a fierce competition.

The winner of an LDP leadership election on September 29 will become prime minister by virtue of the party’s majority in parliament’s lower house, with the popular vaccine minister Taro Kono broadly as a leading candidate.

The LDP’s image has been beaten by public perceptions that Suga slowed his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and is eager for a new face to carry them to victory in general elections expected within two months.

Kono, whose CV is occupied with jobs, including foreign and defense portfolios, faces former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi, who held the post of Interior Minister, and Seiko Noda, a former Minister for Gender Equality.

Unlike last year’s LDP race, when Suga replaced then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, LDP members from the grassroots will join legislators in casting votes, making broad popularity more important than usual in the faction-dominated party.

A common theme Friday was overcoming national divisions, particularly income disparities, which have been exacerbated under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We should not have a preset idea of ​​the size of a stimulus package. The important thing is to spend money on investments for the future,” Kono said. “Among them is helping families with children.”

Referring to former leader Abe’s growth policy, continued by Suga, he added: “Abenomics caused major changes in the economy, but corporate profits did not lead to higher wages. We must shift our focus towards increasing household income from corporate profits.”

The media-savvy, 58-year-old U.S.-educated Kono is on the younger side of a Japanese prime minister and is widely seen as a frontrunner because of his popularity with the public, who regularly choose him as their favorite prime minister. Investors have also recently warmed up to Kono at Kishida’s expense.

His chances were boosted this week when LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba, who is popular with the parties and had considered his own candidacy, threw his support behind Kono.

But Kono has a reputation as a maverick, and the party’s elders may favor the soft-spoken Kishida, 64, who hails from one of the party’s more dull factions, because of perceptions he may be better than Kono at building consensus.

Kishida reiterated Kono by promising to ease income disparities through a new form of capitalism, an attitude he has previously expressed, noting that coronavirus has exaggerated economic disparity.

Takaichi, 60, a disciple of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and member of the LDP’s most conservative wing, said she would align with Abe’s goal of revising the pacifist constitution.

Abe publicly supported her on Twitter on Thursday, praising her “determination to defend Japan’s sovereignty and her strong view of the nation” – a statement that drew plenty of supportive comments.

Noda, 61, who participated in the race Thursday after winning support from the required 20 lawmakers to throw the hat in the ring, is seen as a long shot. But she could have an exaggerated influence on the race by making it harder for a candidate to win a majority in the first round.

Kishida is likely to have an advantage at any run-off, as grassroots members will not vote and factional pressure may be expressed.

Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Leika Kihara; Edited by William Mallard and Michael Perry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters trust principles.

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