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From Twitter star to Thatcher fan: Japan's PM candidates

The Liberal Democratic Party will vote September 29 on a replacement for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to take them into general elections by November, which the party is expected to win.

September 17, 2021 / 10:20 AM IST
Rank 9 | Japan | GPI score: 1.36 (Image: Reuters)

Rank 9 | Japan | GPI score: 1.36 (Image: Reuters)

An outspoken vaccine chief and a right-wing nationalist are among the candidates vying to lead Japan's ruling party and become the country's next prime minister.

The Liberal Democratic Party will vote September 29 on a replacement for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to take them into general elections by November, which the party is expected to win.

Here is a look at the candidates:

- The Twitter star vaccine chief -

Vaccine chief Taro Kono is one of Japan's most recognisable politicians and considered a front-runner in the race.


He is backed by Suga and several senior party figures, and tops public opinion polls.

As minister for administrative reform, he has battled to modernise bureaucracy by scrapping ink stamps and fax machines.

At 58, Kono is the youngest candidate and is seen as part of a new generation in the party, with a liberal outlook and free-flowing communication style.

His Japanese Twitter account has more than two million followers, and he engages directly with people on everything from policy to his love of durian.

But he has also been criticised for blocking people on Twitter, and is accused of harshly and publicly dressing down bureaucrats he considered to be underperforming.

Once seen as a maverick, he has softened some positions that put him out of step with his party, including his opposition to nuclear power.

A former defence and foreign minister, he is a political liberal who backs legalising same-sex marriage, and has pledged to slash bureaucracy, improve digitalisation and meet Japan's climate commitments.

- The dovish listener -

Fumio Kishida is considered the other top candidate in the race, with the backing of his own party faction and support from members of some others.

An ex-foreign minister and former LDP policy chief, he has angled his campaign as a corrective to the current government, saying he wants to "restore trust" after discontent with Suga.

The 64-year-old has touted his listening skills and invited voters to leave him messages in a suggestion box, while pledging fresh pandemic financial support and a new agency for health crises.

Kishida says he wants to "distribute" wealth to tackle growing income inequality, though he has said this would not involve tax hikes, calling instead for stronger growth.

He helped bring then-US president Barack Obama to his native Hiroshima for a historic visit and has said the abolishment of nuclear weapons is "my life's work."

- The Thatcherite metal fan -

Sanae Takaichi is one of Japan's few prominent female politicians and has made no secret of her hard-right nationalist views.

She has described Britain's "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher as a role model, and said she has no problem sticking with unpopular policies if she thinks they are right.

A divisive figure, the 60-year-old strongly opposes apologies for Japan's wartime past and supports the current ban on married couples having different surnames.

She is a regular visitor to Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honours war dead including war criminals and is a flashpoint in relations with South Korea and China.

Despite her conservative mores, she is a heavy metal fan and a motorbike enthusiast, though she reportedly gave up riding after being elected for fear that an accident could affect her work.

- The feminist latecomer -

Seiko Noda has often been described as the woman most likely to become Japan's first female prime minister, but she waited until the day before campaigning began to confirm her run.

A former women's empowerment and gender equality minister, Noda said her campaign would be about creating a conservative politics that supported all parts of society.

The 61-year-old has long pushed for greater gender equality, including allowing married couples to have separate surnames.

She gave birth at the age of 50 after undergoing fertility treatment involving a US egg donor, and has pushed to make fertility treatment more accessible in Japan.

In the past, her bids for the party leadership have met with a lukewarm response and she is seen as a long-shot this time around.
first published: Sep 17, 2021 10:20 am

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