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Japan’s Ruling Party Begins to Pick Next Prime Minister

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Floyd Ciruli

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In Japan’s parliamentary democracy, the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has begun its competition to designate a new prime minister. This person must lead the party into the parliamentary (Diet) elections in November (Nov. 28 at latest). The prime minister selected a year ago, Yoshihide Suga, decided to step down as his polling approval ratings sagged due to the Olympic Games and the continuing pandemic. Suga had been the cabinet secretary of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, and took over after Abe resigned due to ill health.

Suga and Japan are key elements in the Biden administration’s plan to strengthen Asian alliances to counter the assertive foreign policy of President Xi Jinping and China’s Communist Party.

Four LDP leaders have announced their candidacy:

  • Taro Kono – Abe’s defense minister and Suga’s reform minister is a frontrunner and has Suga’s endorsement. Georgetown graduate, fluent in English and a Twitter user.
  • Fumio Kishida – Former foreign minister is also frontrunner due to leading a large LDP faction.
  • Sanae Takaichi, rightwing former interior minister, and Seiko Noda, former gender equality minister. No woman has represented the party or been prime minister in its history.

Other candidates could be considered. The process is well-reported by Japanese media, but remains fairly opaque. The party election is essentially bargaining among the main party factions and leaders with public opinion important only to judge appeal in the next elections. Until Abe, a one-year term for prime minister was common. Voting among LDP will take place September 29 and more than 750 Diet lawmakers and rank and file LDP members will vote. If a second round is needed, lawmakers and a representative for each region (47) will vote. The final Diet vote is October 4. The next prime minister will be leading during a perilous period with the pandemic, China and climate change major challenges, requiring a strong government response. The relationship with the new American administration, which was off to a good start, will also be a key factor in success.

Japan PM candidates
Candidates for the top post in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a joint news conference at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, Sept. 17, 2021. The contenders are from left to right, Taro Kono, Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda. | Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo