Japan's former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reacts as he won in the Liberal Democrat Party leadership election in Tokyo on Sept 29, 2021. (KYODO NEWS VIA AP)
Fumio Kishida is set to become Japan’s prime minister, after the ex-foreign minister overcame popular reformer Taro Kono to win leadership of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Kishida, 64, is set to be appointed Monday to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, putting him in charge of the world’s third-largest economy as it seeks to rebound from a virus emergency.
The self-effacing former banker from Hiroshima has promised tens of trillions of yen in spending and pledged to steer away from “neo-liberal” economic policies in a bid to bolster the middle class.
Japanese markets, which closed just before the final result was announced, pared some losses, with Topix Index and Nikkei 225 both down 2.1 percent.
Candidates for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a joint news conference at the party's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept 17, 2021. The contenders are (from left) Taro Kono, the cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations; Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister; Sanae Takaichi, former internal affairs minister; and Seiko Noda, former internal affairs minister. (KIMIMASA MAYAMA / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
Kishida’s victory caps an unpredictable Liberal Democratic Party election, in which two of the four candidates were female and most of the party’s largest factions allowed their members a free vote
Kishida, who acknowledged during his campaign that some see him as boring, will face an immediate test of his broader appeal in a general election that he must hold by November and then in an upper house election next year.
“We must continue to fight the coronavirus,” he said in brief remarks after the results were announced. “We must put together a stimulus package of tens of trillions of yen by the end of the year and beyond that important problems are piling up for our nation: a new capitalism and realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific, as well as dealing with the low birthrate.”
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Kishida’s victory caps an unpredictable Liberal Democratic Party election, in which two of the four candidates were female and most of the party’s largest factions allowed their members a free vote.
Although Kono and Kishida were nearly tied on the first ballot, Kishida’s stronger support among members of parliament pushed him over the top in the second round after Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda – both female former internal affairs ministers – were eliminated.
A pedestrian looks at a public TV showing Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, with a live broadcast of the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election on Sept 29, 2021, in Tokyo. (EUGENE HOSHIKO / AP)
Kishida, who acknowledged during his campaign that some see him as boring, will face an immediate test of his broader appeal in a general election that he must hold by November and then in an upper house election next year
In the end, Kishida got 257 votes, compared with Kono’s 170.
The LDP, which has been in power for all but about four years since 1955, will use its majority in parliament to formally install him as premier in a special session.
Suga, who abandoned a plan to run for re-election after his support rates plummeted to record lows amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic, was seen as a liability for his party heading into the election expected next month.
The country’s vaccination program got off to a slow start, and efforts to provide financial support to individuals were seen as inefficient.
Nonetheless, the death toll in Japan is far lower than that seen in other wealthy nations, while restrictions on daily life have been relatively light.
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In one of his final acts as premier, Suga on Tuesday decided to lift a virus state of emergency at the end of September as new COVID-19 infections recede, easing restrictions that have dragged on the economy and limited operations at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.