The Japanese ruling party is starting to compete to elect Suga’s successor

Japan has launched the official election campaign for the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose winner is almost certain to become the next prime minister

Four candidates are vying for the post on September 29 to replace incumbent Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who will retire at the end of this month after serving just one year. He took over for his predecessor Shinzo Abe.

Unusual for Japan, two women compete in the race. The only other female challenger was in 2008, when Yuriko Koike, who currently serves as governor of Tokyo, ran.

Earlier Friday, the four each submitted their official candidacies at the party’s headquarters ahead of a series of joint public debate meetings and other campaigns planned over the next 12 days.

Their policies focus on the pandemic and its economic downturn, and the increasingly aggressive role that China has played in regional issues.

Support rating for Suga and his government reached due to his handling of the virus and stubbornness to host the Olympics despite the pandemic, and the party hopes that a new face can give them victory in general elections that must be held in late November.

Abe’s long reign saw unusual political stability but also what critics characterized as an autocratic and ultranationalist attitude.

Taro Kono, currently the minister responsible for vaccinations and considered a pioneer in the election, said on Friday when he launched his campaign that he wants a society that people will see as compassion. Kono, who is considered a lunatic in Japan’s conservative political culture, says he is also trying to reform his own party.

Sanae Takaichi, who shares Abe’s right-wing and revisionist political views, is trying to become the nation’s first female prime minister. The former interior minister called for a stronger military and said on Friday that she wanted ample government spending to create a “beautiful and strong Japan that grows”.

“It’s not just strength we need,” said Seiko Noda, a former post and gender minister and the other hopeful of becoming Japan’s first female leader. A late participant, Noda promises to achieve a diverse and inclusive society that she said is lacking in Japan.

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