Arab News Japan
TOKYO: At the end of this month, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party will choose a new president, who will then become prime minister, following the decision by SUGA Yoshihide to step down. With the factional nature of the LDP, backroom dealing precedes an election, giving the candidates a chance to edge ahead of the competition.
Nothing is certain until the “horse-trading” has finished, but the people’s choice and clear frontrunner at the moment is 58-year-old KONO Taro, who will hope to outrun rivals KISHIDA Fumio, TAKAICHI Sanae and NODA Seiko.
Former Foreign Minister Kishida is seen as a safe but somewhat uninspiring candidate – the preferred leader for the LDP’s power brokers. Noda and the radical Takaichi will appeal to the left- and right-wing of the party, respectively. Meanwhile, Kono has a surprisingly un-Japanese image of a maverick, a person who has his ideas and isn’t afraid to tell you what they are.
He is a graduate of Georgetown University and speaks very good English – not always a skill prized in Japan – but it proved invaluable in his post as minister in charge of vaccinations and his negotiations with Pfizer to secure vaccines for Japan.
His Japanese-language Twitter account boasts 2.3 million followers, and – again, unusual in Japan – he is happy to debate people, both online and in person. His critics would call him outspoken and argumentative, but his openness appeals to voters, and he’s gaining traction with the younger generation.
A modern politician he may be, but as is often the case in Japan, he is part of a political dynasty. Kono’s father, Yohei, once served as LDP president and lower house speaker, while his grandfather Ichiro rose to deputy prime minister. Kono’s political resume includes stints as foreign minister and defense minister.
According to Nikkei, “If he is elected party president, he may have to temper his straight-talking style that has occasionally raised eyebrows. As defense minister, Kono ditched plans to deploy an Aegis Ashore land-based missile interception system, but his abrupt announcement caused confusion, according to local reports. As prime minister, Kono hopes to bring ‘warmth’ to Japanese society.”
In an August opinion poll, Kono topped the list of people most suited to become prime minister, and this could prove vital for the LDP as they will soon face a general election, somewhat nervously, commentators say.
Veteran journalist TAHARA Soichiro, writing for the Weekly Asahi, noted: “Many members of the Liberal Democratic Party have a strong sense of crisis that they may lose the House of Representatives election this fall. They saw how Prime Minister Suga’s popularity was heading south in constituencies nationwide.”
However, he adds, “There are people who do not want Mr. Kono to become the prime minister at all. The biggest of them is the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Mr. Kono has strongly advocated opposition to nuclear power plants. Unlike many politicians, he doesn’t change his policy easily, which is why Mr. Kono is trusted. But it means it might be troublesome for both METI and electric power companies nationwide to have Mr. Kono as prime minister.”