Taro Kono, Japan’s vaccines minister, has emerged as the favourite contender in weekend opinion polls on who could succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
The winner of the LDP leadership election on September 29 is almost certain to become Prime Minister.
Only LDP parliamentarians and grass-roots members will vote in the election, but candidates’ popularity among the general public is important because the winner will lead the party to a general election later this year.
In a survey conducted by the Asahi daily on Saturday and Sunday, 33% of those polled said Kono was most suitable as the next LDP leader, followed by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba’s 16% and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida’s 14%.
In a surprise announcement, Suga said earlier this month he would step down as prime minister, ending a one-year term that has seen his support crumble as coronavirus cases surged.
The Asahi survey showed that 58% of those polled believe that the next LDP leader should not take over the policies of Suga and Shinzo Abe, who served as prime minister before Suga.
In a similar poll by the Nikkei business daily, 27% of those surveyed chose Kono as most suitable for the post of the ruling party chief, ahead of Ishiba’s 17% and Kishida’s 14%.
Kono and Kishida have declared their candidacy for the top party post, while Ishiba has not made public his intention.