Kishida wins race to be Japan’s next prime minister
Former Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida won the ruling party leadership elections on Wednesday and is expected to become the next prime minister.
He faces the looming task of battling an economy hit by a pandemic and securing a strong alliance with Washington to counter growing regional security risks.
Kishida replaces outgoing party leader Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after only a year since taking office last September.
As the new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida is certain to be elected prime minister in parliament next Monday, where his party and coalition partner control the house.
Kishida defeated popular immunization minister Taro Kono in the second round after finishing with one vote ahead of him in the first round where none of the four candidates, including two women, could secure a majority.
The results showed that Kishida had more support from the heavyweights of the party who apparently chose stability over the change advocated by Kono, who is known as a sort of maverick.
The new leader is under pressure to change the party’s authoritarian reputation aggravated by Suga, who has angered the public at his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his insistence on hosting the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The long-time ruling Tory Liberal Democrats are in desperate need of swiftly reversing public support ahead of the lower house elections two months from now.
Kishida called for growth and distribution as part of his “new capitalism,” saying the economy of Japan’s oldest Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has only benefited big business.
Overall, little change is expected in key diplomatic and security policies under the new ruler, said Yu Uchiyama, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo.
All of the candidates support close security ties between Japan and the United States and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia and Europe, in part to counter the growing influence of China and the threat of China. North Korea, endowed with nuclear weapons.
Wednesday’s vote was seen as a test of whether the party can come out of Abe’s shadow. His influence in government and party affairs has largely muzzled diverse opinions and shifted the party to the right.
Kishida is also seen as a choice that could prolong an era of unusual political stability amid fears that Japan will return to leading the “revolving doors”.
“The concern is not about individuals but the stability of Japanese politics,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, before the vote.
“It is a question of whether or not we are entering a period of Japanese politics of instability and short-term prime minister,” he said. “It makes it very difficult to move the agenda forward.”
Suga leaves just a year after taking office as Abe’s replacement, who suddenly resigned over health concerns, ending his nearly eight years of leadership, the longest in Japan’s constitutional history. .