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Japan’s ruling LDP leadership race opens with four candidates

  • September 17, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 10:43 a.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — The campaign to lead Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party officially began Friday with four candidates — two men and two women.


Standing are former foreign minister and LDP policy research chief Fumio Kishida; administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who also has held the foreign and defense chief posts; Sanae Takaichi, who has served as communications minister; and Seiko Noda, a former minister for internal affairs and communications.


Noda’s 11th-hour bid announced Thursday makes this the first time that more than one female candidate has run for the leadership. No woman has led the party since it was founded in 1955.


The four candidates have officially registered their campaigns with the party, and much of the debate is now expected to focus on Japan’s coronavirus response.


Unlike last year, when LDP insiders picked Yoshihide Suga to replace Shinzo Abe as party president, the current crowded field means the rank-and-file will have a say in who gets to head the LDP. The winner of the race will become prime minister because of the ruling coalition’s majority in the lower house, and will take the party into a general election this autumn.


The LDP presidential race will count 383 votes from lawmakers in the Diet, as well as 383 other ballots from party members and supporters nationwide. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the two front-runners head into a runoff.


The two candidates in the runoff will fight for the same 383 Diet votes, plus 47 votes representing each of Japan’s prefectures. Because rank-and-file party members will have less weight in the runoff, the support received by the likely third- or fourth-place candidate could be key to the outcome.


Six of the seven LDP factions have not thrown their weight behind a single candidate, muddying the alignment of party insiders. Noda, who does not belong to any faction, complicates the calculus further.


With her background, Noda can use her name recognition to draw votes from the party rank-and-file. This could impact Kono, a Twitter star.


But Noda could also split the female votes, since she is up against Takaichi.


Noda has at least secured the required recommendation from 20 LDP Diet members — a hurdle she could not clear the last three times she sought the LDP presidency.


This time around, the LDP factions are indecisive, meaning that lawmakers have more freedom to choose favorites. At the very least, this takes exactly 20 votes away from the other candidates.


Noda has apparently won support from nonfaction lawmakers, as well as from members from three factions. At least five backers apparently came from the faction headed by LDP Secretary-General Toshiro Nikai.


A lawmaker backing Kishida said Thursday the that Noda’s entry will give Kishida an advantage.


Noda backs LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. She also says spouses should be allowed to keep their surnames after marrying. These stances overlap with Kono.


“Kono will have the most to lose out of [Noda’s] three rivals,” said a person high up in the Kishida faction.


If Kishida ends up facing Kono in the runoff, “former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who holds sway over the leading Hosoda faction, will support Kishida,” the source said.


Noda will hold the key for Kono to counter the threat from Kishida or Takaichi, who currently has support from Abe.


“If [Kono] faces a runoff against either Kishida or Takaichi, we’ll consider approaching Noda, whose views are similar to his,” a senior member of Kono’s camp said.


“Noda’s liberal tenets resemble the Kishida faction’s traditional agenda,” said a source high up in Takaichi’s campaign.


“If Noda captures votes from Kishida, then Takaichi could place second in the initial vote,” the source said.


A lawmaker who supports Takaichi is unfazed by another woman joining the race.


Takaichi “has a solid base among conservatives regardless of gender, so there is zero impact,” the legislator said.


Though how the votes might break down remains unclear, candidates have already begun to run simulations on how they could potentially secure the LDP presidency.


The Kishida camp charted out a path to victory with roughly 40% of party member votes. Kishida would still need 230 votes from lawmakers under this scenario, and with 46 members in his faction, his backers are aggressively courting support from other corners of the party.


Kono, a top choice in opinion polls, aims to win about 60% of party member votes with the support of other popular party figures, like former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi.


Abe on Thursday officially backed Takaichi on Twitter, writing that she “has proposed concrete policies to protect lives and livelihoods and to energize the economy amid the coronavirus.”


Takaichi, who does not belong to an LDP faction, hopes that Abe’s endorsement can win her more votes from party lawmakers.

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