Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan is expected to seek for the ruling party’s leadership when incumbent Yoshihide Suga’s current term expires in September, according to the Sankei newspaper on Monday.
The action would disrupt Prime Minister Suga’s ambition to run unopposed for another term as party leader and ride the party through general elections with a commitment to speed up vaccinations and take harsher measures to address the COVID-19 crisis.
“If someone like Kishida, who can count on back-up from the faction he leads, raises his hand, the chance of Suga winning the leadership race with no vote is virtually zero,” said Toru Suehiro, senior economist at Daiwa Securities.
Kishida is likely to formally announce his candidacy when the date of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership race is fixed, the paper said, citing several anonymous sources.
The party will decide on Thursday when to hold the race, with the most likely date seen as Sept. 29, the paper said.
Suga’s administration has seen support ratings plunge over its the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, heightening calls within the LDP to pick a new face in the party leadership race ahead of a general election that must be held by Oct. 21.
An ally of Suga backed by the LDP lost a mayoral race in Yokohama on Sunday, Japanese media reported, a further blow to Suga’s popularity.
“It’s a very disappointing outcome,” Suga told reporters on Monday. “There’s no change to my view of running (in the LDP leadership race) when the timing is right.”
Kishida has been considered a strong candidate for the top LDP role. Former general affairs minister Sanae Takaichi and ruling party executive Hakubun Shimomura have also expressed interest in running, according to media reports.
Helped by a fragmented opposition, the ruling coalition is likely to win enough votes at the general elections to stay in power regardless of whether Suga stays as head of the party, analysts say.
However, political uncertainty may weigh on Japan’s fragile economic recovery, with a stop-and-go state of emergency damaging private consumption and offsetting the growth boost from good exports.
The existing limits are primarily centred on voluntary requests for eateries to close early and refrain from serving alcohol, which critics claim has been unsuccessful.
On Sunday, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government will examine tightening measures to prevent the influx of people, such as calls for a larger number of stores to close.