YUKIO TAJIMA, YUSUKE TAKEUCHI and YUKI FUJITA, Nikkei staff writers
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated Monday that he intends to seek reelection as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party despite growing concerns about the LDP’s election prospects under Suga following a defeat in the Yokohama mayoral race.
“I have told you that I would, of course, run when the time comes,” Suga told reporters at his official residence. “My thinking has not changed.”
But a post-mortem political recalibration has already begun within the LDP, as many members want a “new face” for the party as it looks to win the general election, which must take place this fall.
Hachiro Okonogi, the candidate backed by Suga, lost to Takeharu Yamanaka, an independent endorsed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party. Sunday’s outcome is viewed as a bellwether for Suga’s voter appeal across the country.
Among those reportedly considering a run in the LDP presidential race is Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister who was defeated by Suga last year. LDP policy research chief Hakubun Shimomura is also considering throwing his hat into the ring.
Many in the LDP think the defeat in Yokohama lowers the odds of Suga calling an early snap parliamentary election, while the party leadership race is expected to take place on schedule next month. The campaign is likely to begin Sept. 17, with the vote taking place Sept. 29.
“Once the schedule for the leadership election is set, I’ll think carefully about how to get involved,” Kishida told a meeting of his LDP faction Thursday.
But those in his faction who met last week said Kishida should declare his candidacy quickly. Kishida is expected to further weigh his chances before making a final decision.
Shimomura delivered a speech in Tokyo on Monday, signaling his interest in joining the race. “By entering the LDP presidential race, I want to change the party,” he said. “I will lead political reform to create politics that bring hopes about Japan’s future.”
Suga still has the backing of top party leaders. LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai has announced his support for Suga and confirmed that backing with his faction members Monday. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to throw his weight behind Suga, as does Finance Minister Taro Aso, who also doubles as deputy prime minister.
But former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda, the LDP’s executive acting secretary-general, are also among those who aim to stand for election. Candidates must be endorsed by at least 20 party lawmakers.
Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who finished third in last year’s three-person race, has not said he plans to join the race this time.