Japan PM, ruling party executive hold talks on party leadership race

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday held talks with a powerful ruling party executive on an upcoming party leadership vote which will determine who leads the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into the next election due by November.

FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference announcing to extend a state of emergency on COVID-19 pandemic at prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, August 17, 2021. Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via REUTERS

The ruling LDP vote is expected to take place on Sept. 29.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday held talks with a powerful ruling party executive on the upcoming party leadership vote, officials involved told local media, a contest which will impact general election and the next Japanese leader.

Toshihiro Nikai, the Secretary General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said this week he backs the re-appointment of Suga as party head, a position ensuring Suga would remain prime minister and lead the party in the looming general election.

Japan’s largest newspaper the Yomiuri daily said on Wednesday that in addition to Nikai’s faction, the leadership of four other main groups in the LDP also favoured Suga for the top job, although younger, more vulnerable MPs opposed the unpopular premier.

Suga took office last September after Shinzo Abe quit citing ill health, and his term expires at the end of next month. The premier’s ratings have fallen below 30% as Japan battles its worst wave of COVID-19 infections, and some in the party want to replace him before the general election.

Nikai did not speak to the reporters after the talks which lasted 30 minutes. Suga said the two discussed the coronavirus and did not answer questions on politics.

Suga has repeatedly said he would run in the leadership contest for another term, though a former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is likely to challenge him in the party vote.

LDP members of parliament and grassroots party members are expected to be eligible to vote in the poll.

There had been speculation that Suga may aim to first call a general election, win a majority of seats, then use the victory to help him win another term as party leader.

But Kyodo news agency, citing unnamed sources, said late on Tuesday Suga was not planning to dissolve the lower house of parliament, a key step for calling a snap election, before the party leadership vote.

This arrangement appeared to have been confirmed during the talks on Wednesday, where Suga and Nikai agreed the party leadership race would go ahead, Kyodo said.

Nikai played a major role in ensuring Suga’s victory in the previous LDP leadership race last year.

Suga was scheduled to hold a news conference at 9 p.m. (12:00 p.m. GMT) on the expansion here of the COVID-19 state of emergency to eight more prefectures, including the northern island of Hokkaido, as infections show no sign of slowing.

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