EXPLAINER: Japanese ruling party race to determine next PM

Japan Politics Explainer

TOKYO (AP) — Official election campaigning started Friday for the next head of Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party. The winner will almost certainly become leader of the world’s No. 3 economy, shaping key political, military and security roles in the region.

Two men and, unusually for Japan, two women are competing in the Sept. 29 vote to replace outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Their policies focus on anti-coronavirus measures, an economy hobbled by the pandemic and how to deal with, from Tokyo’s perspective, China’s increasingly menacing role in regional affairs.

The Associated Press explains who these politicians are, their policies and the importance of the election for both Japan and Asia.

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THE CANDIDATES

— TARO KONO: Considered something of a maverick in Japan's largely conservative political culture, he is the minister in charge of vaccinations and a front runner in the election. Kono, 58, is a fluent English speaker who graduated from Georgetown University. He is an avid Twitter user, with many young fans, a rarity in a Japanese political world dominated by elderly men. A liberal on social issues, Kono supports same sex marriage and advancing the role of women. Having served as foreign and defense minister, Kono says he will work with countries that share democratic values to counter China’s growing assertiveness in regional seas. He stressed his achievements in speeding up Japan's delayed vaccinations, portraying himself as a leader who gets things done by tearing down bureaucratic barriers if necessary. Suga announced his support for Kono, praising his achievement in speeding up vaccinations. He is backed by other popular reformists and is seen as a rival to supporters of former arch-conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

FUMIO KISHIDA: The 64-year old former foreign minister was once seen as an indecisive moderate. Of late, however, he has shifted to a security and diplomatic hawk as he seeks support from influential conservatives like Abe. Kishida calls for a further increase of Japan’s defense capability and budget and vows to stand up to China in tensions in the Taiwan Strait and Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. On the economy, Kishida calls for a “new capitalism” of growth and distribution to narrow income gaps between the rich and the poor that have been worsened by the pandemic. He pledges to promote clean energy technology to turn climate change measures into growth and proposes a hefty economic recovery package.

SEIKO NODA: A longtime hopeful to become Japan's first female leader, she is entering the race for the first time at age 61. She has served as postal, internal affairs and gender