Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has won a hotly contested leadership race to head Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, putting him on track to succeed resigning Yoshihide Suga as prime minister of a key U.S. ally.
For the first time in modern Japanese politics, the race featured two serious female candidates — conservative Sanae Takaichi and the more liberal Seiko Noda — but Mr. Kishida‘s main challenger proved to be popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono, whom he edged by just a single vote in the first round of voting. Mr. Kishida then won decisively, 257-170, in the run-off, as party leaders apparently rallied to the cause of the candidate seen as a steadier hand.
The choice likely signals a period of policy continuity for Tokyo, despite the unpopularity of Mr. Suga, who stepped down after only a year of the job. Mr. Kishida has backed closer ties with the U.S. and a policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” that is viewed as an implicit challenge to China’s aggressive recent moves, but was also less aggressive in his rhetoric toward Beijing than some of his rivals.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Kishida in his victory speech vowed to tackle “national crises” including COVID-19, the pandemic-battered economy and the falling national birth rate.
Mr. Kishida was widely viewed as a safe choice for the ruling party, compared to the more outspoken and high-profile Mr. Kono, a fluent English speaker with a significant social media presence.
But Japanese political analysts say the current parliament is likely to be dissolved next month with a general election set for early November. It is not clear if Mr. Kishida‘s low-key image will help the party save off losses in the legislature.
Jesper Koll, a director at the Monex Group, said Wednesday’s result was “a win for the establishment.”