Japan’s Kono May Get Rival’s Backing in PM Race, Report Says

Taro Kono, Japan's regulatory reform and vaccine minister, gestures while speaking in Tokyo. (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Japan’s Kono May Get Rival’s Backing in PM Race, Report Says

Former Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s expected run to succeed outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga may get a boost as one of his most popular rivals for the post plans to step aside, TV Asahi said. 

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, 64, won’t run for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and is instead considering throwing his support behind Kono, the broadcaster reported Monday, citing sources close to Ishiba. The party elects a new leader Sept. 29 and the winner is virtually guaranteed to become the next prime minister due to the ruling coalition’s dominance in parliament.

Kono, 58, was the most popular choice for the next premier in two public opinion polls at the weekend. Ishiba came in second and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who has officially launched a run, was third. Kono told reporters last week he would consult with colleagues before making a decision to run, as broadcaster TBS and other media cited unnamed political sources as saying he planned to toss his hat in the ring. 

Japan’s Kono May Get Rival’s Backing in PM Race, Report Says

The race was thrown open last week when Suga announced he was abandoning plans to seek another term as leader of the LDP after about a year on the job as his support rate plummeted and criticism mounted over his pandemic management. 

Kono came top in media polls over the weekend asking who would be the most appropriate person to take over, scoring almost 32% in a survey by Kyodo News carried out Sept. 4-5, with 37% of ruling Liberal Democratic Party supporters picking him. Ishiba was on 26.6% and Kishida followed with 18.8%.

Fourth and fifth places were taken by potential female candidates: Seiko Noda and Sanae Takaichi with 4.4% and 4%, respectively. A separate poll by the Yomiuri newspaper carried out on the same dates put the top three candidates in the same order, with Kono, the government’s vaccine czar, at 23%.

Japan’s Kono May Get Rival’s Backing in PM Race, Report Says

The public doesn’t get a say in the choice of party leader, who will be selected in a Sept. 29 vote among LDP lawmakers and rank-and-file party members. While horse trading among the party’s powerful parliamentary factions often determines the result, the party must also bear in mind a general election that must be held by late November. 

Even as Suga’s support has slumped, other parties have largely failed to attract the interest of voters. The Yomiuri poll found support for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan at less than 10%, compared with 36% for the LDP.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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