The race to replace Yoshihide Suga as Japan’s prime minister begins on Friday with a four-way battle between an American-educated champion of deregulation, a skeptic of neoliberal policies, and two outspoken politicians seeking to become the first woman in the world. occupy the main position. .
With the Covid-19 crisis that left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party facing its greatest threat since losing power to the opposition in 2009, the race for leadership is the most unpredictable contest in 15 years. It will also be the first with two runners in a country where less than 10% of parliamentarians are women.
Some of the larger factions of the PLD, political groups that have historically been influential in leadership contests, have failed to unify their members to endorse a single candidate.
With the public increasingly frustrated by the government’s handling of the pandemic, a younger generation of politicians wants to break with tradition and cast their votes independently. They are desperate to find a candidate with popular appeal who can lead the party to victory in a general election due to be held in late November.
Suga announced his resignation this month after just one year in office. His successor faces the formidable task of rebuilding the economy and tackling a host of challenges, from the pandemic to a strong China to global warming.
The winner on September 29 is almost certain to become prime minister, as the ruling coalition controls a majority in parliament.
Minister in charge of administrative reform and vaccine policy
Education: Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
Previous roles: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense
Jobs outside of politics: He joined Fuji Xerox after college and helped establish its operation in Singapore.
Politics and personality: Son of Yohei Kono, former Chief Cabinet Secretary who issued a landmark 1993 apology to wartime “comfort women”. Unafraid to speak his mind, he has opposed the government’s nuclear push and questioned the closed immigration policy.
If the PLD chief were elected by popular vote, the 58-year-old Vaccine Minister would be the clear favorite. Younger politicians led by Shinjiro Koizumi, another rising star and Environment Minister, have turned to Kono to revitalize Japan’s moribund political scene, which has been dominated by the party’s heavyweights in its 80 years.
Known for his direct, no-nonsense style and short temper, the former foreign and defense minister has said he is willing to take on vested interests to drive growth through digitization and revise Japan’s energy policy to achieve net carbon emissions. zero by 2050.
Kono, who speaks English and knows social media, was blessed by Taro Aso, the finance minister who heads the 53-member faction that Kono belongs to, to join the contest. But it’s unclear how many votes he can get from his colleagues.
Although he is perceived as a nonconformist, Kono belongs to a politically well connected family. His grandfather was the deputy prime minister and his father the chief cabinet secretary who issued a landmark apology in 1993 to wartime “comfort women”, South Korean women forced into sexual slavery during Japan’s colonial rule.
Head of the 47-member Kochikai faction of the LDP
Education: Waseda University
Previous roles: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense
Jobs outside of politics: Formerly with Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, now Shinsei Bank
Politics and personality: As Shinzo Abe’s foreign minister, he tried to deepen ties with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over Japanese sake and vodka. An agreement was negotiated to solve the “comfort women” problem, but the 2015 agreement with South Korea fell apart.
With a solid record as a former foreign and defense minister, many PLD MPs regard Kishida as a safe and predictable option to succeed Suga despite his low profile among the general public. Since becoming the first to declare his candidacy, the 64-year-old has given a detailed outline of his political plans on Covid-19, diplomacy and the economy.
His most striking statement was a promise to move away from the neoliberal approach to deregulation and structural reform adopted by former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe since the early 2000s. Echoing the debate in the US and UK , Kishida has vowed to reduce the income gap that has widened in the wake of the pandemic.
While he has committed to coronavirus-related stimulus packages and aggressive monetary policy to beat deflation, Kishida and his 47-member faction have also pushed for fiscal discipline. It poses a formidable challenge for Kono, particularly as the largest faction of the PLD, which is associated with Abe, has urged its members to vote for either Kishida or Sanae Takaichi, the third candidate.
Advisor to the women’s affairs division of the LDP
Education: Kobe University
Previous roles: Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications
Jobs outside of politics: Television presenter
Politics and personality: She is known as an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, but the early days of her political career were controversial for her endorsement of a 1994 book praising Adolf Hitler’s electoral tactics.
A victory for one of Tokyo’s most prominent female politicians would be controversial both inside and outside of Japan due to Takaichi’s outspoken views on national security, constitutional reform, and his frequent visits to the contentious Yasukuni war shrine, which honors Japan was dead, including some condemned. of war crimes.
Most of the contenders have pointed to the need for Japan to increase its defense spending and deepen regional ties to counter the threat from China. But Takaichi, a former communications minister, has been the most aggressive in seeking to strengthen Japan’s military capabilities.
It has committed to continuing the Abenomics program of aggressive monetary and fiscal stimulus with increased investments in crisis management.
He has also suggested setting aside Japan’s goal of returning to a primary balance surplus by 2025 to prioritize hitting the 2 percent inflation target.
But Takaichi’s victory is unlikely. Despite Abe’s powerful backing, she does not belong to any faction. Many PLD MPs are also concerned that their conservative views on gender roles will hurt the party’s chances in a general election.
Acting Executive Secretary General of the PLD
Education: Sophia University
Previous roles: Minister of internal affairs and communications, gender equality
Jobs outside of politics: He joined the Imperial Hotel after college
Politics and personality: An advocate of female empowerment, she gave birth at the age of 50 to a baby conceived by in vitro fertilization using eggs from an American donor.
The former minister for Gender Equality made a last-minute race for the post of prime minister after fighting until the last hours to get enough backing to join the race.
While she has yet to present her economic and foreign policies, the 61-year-old has vowed to create a more diverse and weak-friendly country. In the late 1990s, she became the youngest postwar female minister when she was appointed post and telecommunications chief at the age of 37.
While she has long aspired to become the nation’s first female leader, she has a proven track record and was briefly expelled from the LDP after opposing former Prime Minister Koizumi’s postal reforms in 2005.
His chances of winning the contest are slim as his political base is weak and he does not belong to any faction. But his entry is expected to bring more volatility to the race and divide critical votes.