Fumio Kishida is set to become the next prime minister of Japan after he was elected leader of the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Sept. 29.
The 64-year-old, who is Japan’s former foreign minister, defeated the country’s minister for administrative and regulatory reform and vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, securing 257 votes to 170. Two female contenders, Sanae Takaichi, 60, and Seiko Noda, 61, dropped out after the first round.
Kono had been widely regarded as the favorite to win the LDP leadership, particularly given that he consistently topped public polling and boasts a large following on social media.
Kishida’s win in the leadership almost assures he will be elected as prime minister of Japan on Oct. 4 in Parliament, where the LDP has a majority in the lower house.
In an acceptance speech, Kishida vowed to lead a “transformed party” in a general election due by Nov. 28 and continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The LDP leadership election is over. Let us all face the lower house and the upper house elections as one,” Kishida said.
“Our national crisis continues. We need to keep working hard on the coronavirus response with strong determination, and we need to compile tens of trillions of yen of stimulus package by the end of the year.”
It’s widely expected that Kishida will form a new cabinet and reshuffle the LDP executive in early October.
The LDP leader has a tough path ahead of him, given that Japan’s economy—the world’s third-largest—has been battered by COVID-19 lockdowns.
During his campaign, Kishida has heavily criticized outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the CCP virus pandemic as too little and too slow, and called for a stimulus package of more than 30 trillion yen ($269 billion) to combat the pandemic.
He also promised to bring socioeconomic activities in Japan back to near normalcy by early 2022, noting that a massive stimulus package must be compiled “swiftly” and include cash payments to non-permanent workers and others who will be affected by steps to contain the flow of people.
Kishida also said that if he were to become prime minister, he would have the Bank of Japan maintain its 2 percent inflation target and massive stimulus program, and that Japan likely would not raise a sales tax rate from 10 percent “for about a decade,” as imposing a higher levy on households would further cripple the economy.
The former foreign minister has promised to address income inequality, which is steeper in Japan than in most other OECD countries, and has been campaigning on measures to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Kishida will succeed Suga, who announced on Sept. 3 that he would not be running for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) reelection in September, after about a year in office.
Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September due to ill health, cited Japan’s response to the CCP virus as his reasoning for stepping down, telling reporters that he didn’t have time to focus on COVID-19 measures as well as campaigning for the LDP job.
Suga’s resignation came after he saw his support ratings drop to below 30 percent.
Kishida’s victory is unlikely to prompt a noticeable shift in Japan’s policies, as he shares a broad consensus on key issues such as expanding Japan’s defenses and strengthening security ties with the United States and other partners, as well as maintaining vital economic ties with China.