‘Consensus builder' Fumio Kishida set to become Japan’s new PM
Japan's former foreign minister Fumio Kishida is set to be sworn in as Mr Yoshihide Suga's successor as Prime Minister, after he won the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's internal election on Wednesday (Sept 29).
The Diet will convene next Monday for lawmakers to elect Japan's 100th Prime Minister. The LDP coalition has a majority in both chambers of Parliament, making the process all but a formality.
Mr Kishida, 64, edged out administrative reform and vaccination minister Taro Kono in two rounds of the election to become LDP president.
There were 429 votes at stake – the party's 382 lawmakers and the 47 prefecture chapters which had one vote each.
Mr Kishida won 257 ballots (249 from lawmakers and eight from prefecture chapters), defeating Mr Kono who scored 170 votes (131 and 39).
This came after the first round of voting that featured two other candidates – former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, 60, and former gender equality minister Seiko Noda, 61.
In this round, each of the 382 lawmakers got one vote, with the remaining 382 ballots split among the 47 prefecture chapters where the party's 1.1 million rank-and-file members also had a say.
Mr Kishida's 256 votes comprised 146 lawmaker votes and 110 grassroots votes. Mr Kono was just a vote behind, with 86 lawmaker votes and 169 grassroots votes.
In third place was former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, 60, who scored 188 votes (114 lawmaker and 74 grassroots votes), with former gender equality minister Seiko Noda, 61, ranking last with 63 votes (34 lawmaker and 29 grassroots votes).
Mr Kishida will lead the LDP into a general election that must be held by November, with four-year Lower House lawmaker terms set to expire on Oct 21. Kishida faces the task of rebuilding an economy staggering from the COVID-19 pandemic, but his consensus style will help him consolidate power within the factious ruling party.
But the jury is out as to how the electorate will vote given that Mr Kishida's victory goes against popular opinion. Mr Kono has regularly topped media opinion surveys as the public's choice for their preferred next Prime Minister.
A poll by Nikkei and TV Tokyo showed Mr Kono as the preferred choice of 46 per cent of respondents, and 45 per cent in a separate Mainichi Shimbun survey.
Mr Kishida came in second with 17 per cent in the Nikkei poll, and ranked third behind Ms Takaichi in the Mainichi survey.
Mr Kono's maverick reformist credentials have made many senior LDP politicians very uneasy, though he has wide popular appeal for his willingness to break tradition and ability to cut through red tape to get things done.
Yet this was not enough to defeat Mr Kishida, whose support among the LDP lawmakers stem from how he is a more traditional LDP politician who is less willing to rock the boat.
Kishida's victory is unlikely to trigger a huge shift in policies as Japan seeks to cope with an assertive China and revive an economy hit by the pandemic, with the soft-spoken MP highlighting the need to focus on reducing income disparity.
He shares a broad consensus on the need to boost Japan's defences and strengthen security ties with the United States and other partners including the QUAD grouping of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, while preserving vital economic ties with China and holding regular summit meetings.
Specifically, Kishida wants to beef up Japan's coast guard and backs passing of a resolution condemning China's treatment of members of the Uyghur minority. He wants to appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor their human rights situation.