TOKYO: The picture of the upcoming leadership election for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is changing rapidly after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga abruptly announced Friday that he will not seek re-election.
The same day, regulatory reform minister Taro Kono informed party lawmakers of his intention to declare his candidacy for the LDP presidential election, while former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba suggested that he is eager to run in the election, saying the race situation is in “a totally different phase.”
Before Suga’s effective decision to step down, the Sept. 29 LDP election was seen centering on a battle between Suga, 72, and former party policy chief and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, 64.
At a meeting of party executives on Friday morning, Suga said he will not run in the LDP election, signaling his intention to step down as prime minister. His term of office as LDP president ends on Sept. 30.
Whoever wins the LDP election is all but assured of the post of prime minister because of the party’s majority in the House of Representatives, the all-important chamber of parliament.
On Friday, Kono, 58, told Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso that he wants to run in the leadership election. Aso, head of the LDP faction to which Kono belongs, showed his understanding, according to informed sources.
Kono also called young party lawmakers both within and outside the Aso faction to ask them to offer their names as supporters of his candidacy. Any candidate needs to be backed by at least 20 party lawmakers.
“I will make a decision after holding talks with senior party members and fellow members,” Kono later told reporters. He expressed confidence that he can deal with his job responsibilities as the minister overseeing Japan’s novel coronavirus vaccine rollout and the LDP election at the same time.
Meanwhile, Ishiba 64, held talks with members of his faction to analyze the current situation within the LDP. “We are seeing a totally new development. I will reach a conclusion at an appropriate time while consulting with like-minded party members,” he told reporters later.
Hakubun Shimomura, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, 67, is looking again at putting himself forward as a candidate after abandoning his plan to run in the election earlier this week. “The situation has changed,” he said.
Seiko Noda, 61, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP, did not rule out declaring her candidacy in the election.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, 40, said only, “I will make efforts so that what he (Suga) has done will be evaluated properly.”
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, a 65-year-old member of the LDP faction led by party heavyweight Wataru Takeshita, said, “My first responsibility is to ensure the unity of our group.”
Kishida, who has already announced his candidacy, told reporters: “The most important thing is to face the people and party members squarely. (My stance) does not change irrespective of the composition (of the election).”
Former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, 60, who has also expressed eagerness to file candidacy in the poll, said, “My willingness to run has not changed.”