According to reports, Japan’s LDP’s Ishiba may support Kono in the party’s leadership campaign.

Shigeru Ishiba, a key member in Japan’s ruling party, has announced his desire not to run for prime minister and is considering endorsing Taro Kono, according to a Japanese daily on Tuesday.

Because Ishiba is well-liked by rank-and-file party members, the decision may improve Kono’s chances of succeeding Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Because of the LDP’s parliamentary majority, the party’s leader is essentially guaranteed the premiership.

The popular Kono, currently the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination drive, is considered a leading contender to replace Suga after a surprise announcement this month that he would not seek to stay on in the post.

While only lawmakers and grassroots party members can vote on the party leadership, popularity with the general public counts as the winner will lead the LDP into a general election later this year.

Ishiba, a former defence minister, will convey his decision to members of his political faction on Wednesday, the Yomiuri daily reported. The vote will be held on Sept. 29.

Kono, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi have all declared their candidacy for the post.

Kono regularly tops public opinion polls on who should succeed Suga. In a poll by the Asahi daily at the weekend, he was chosen by 33% of respondents, while 16% chose Ishiba and 14% Kishida.

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