The latest Asahi Shimbun opinion poll found that Minister in charge of Administrative Reform Kono Taro is the preferred choice for the next Liberal Democratic Party president. There are two other candidates running in the election, however, and the LDP votes are likely to be split among the three contenders, increasing the possibility of a runoff. In that scenario, the LDP Diet members’ votes would be the key to determining the next party president.
On Sept. 13, Kono commented in a press briefing on the results of the opinion poll. “I am pleased with the very favorable numbers in the poll.” he said. On the same day, a group of Lower House LDP members with no faction affiliation announced its support for Kono.
Kono, who enjoys high name recognition, hopes to garner votes from (local) rank-and-file LDP members and supporters. A decisive advantage in the LDP’s grassroots vote will create momentum that attracts votes from mid-career and younger members of the Diet, enabling him to secure a majority.
On the other hand, the Aso faction, which is the second largest LDP faction and the one Kono belongs to, is not giving Kono solid support. Some are enthusiastically backing him, while others are more lukewarm. This makes Kono’s prospects for a decisive victory uncertain. If no candidate achieves a majority, the two top candidates will have a runoff, in which the Diet members, who hold a total of 383 votes, will play the decisive role. Only 47 votes are allocated to local party members in a runoff.
Kono has put a lid on his signature arguments about “carbon neutrality” and the need for discussions on female-line emperors. This is likely out of consideration for the veteran party members who are apt to keep their distance from Kono, and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who wields an influence in the party’s largest group, the Hosoda faction.
Also conscious of the need to strengthen his support from Diet members is Kishida Fumio, the former chair of the LDP Policy Research Council.
Kishida remarked on the opinion poll during a press conference on Sept. 13, saying, “I appreciate that the expectations of the Japanese people [for me] have been growing even from a couple of months ago.” Previously, media polls were showing that support for Kishida as the next prime minister was only several percent. It has been on a rising trend since he declared his candidacy.
Kishida is gearing up his messaging efforts through TV programs and social media to increase support from local party members, whose favorite is still Kono. Kishida is also attempting to obtain votes from Diet members by securing the backing of Abe and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aso Taro, who leads the Aso faction.
On Sept. 9, several veteran members of the Aso faction who support Kishida met with Aso. As for Abe, although he currently backs former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae, Kishida is hoping to obtain his support, eyeing a scenario in which Takaichi drops out of the race before a runoff. “This time the LDP presidential election is not being controlled by the factions,” Kishida said. “The key is to expand support in the Diet,” he added, indicating his intention to attract young lawmakers and break away from other factions.
Takaichi, who ranked fourth in the poll after Kishida, is struggling due to low name recognition. Even with Abe’s backing, securing a solid number of Diet votes would be hard for Takaichi, who is not a member of any faction. She has reportedly been advised by Abe to “appear on as many TV programs as possible to raise her profile.” She hopes to take part in a runoff by strengthening her local support as well as through gaining the backing of lawmakers not closely affiliated with Abe.
Former LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru, who ranked second in the poll, has not clarified whether he will run. All eyes are on his decision as it could drastically change the dynamics of the election. On Sept. 13, Kono visited Ishiba’s office for about 20 minutes. “Beyond the presidential election, the Lower House election and the Upper House election loom,” Kono reportedly said and asked for Ishiba’s cooperation. “If I am elected president of the party and the prime minister, please lend me a hand.”