Japan’s ruling party just elected their new leader, and anticipated next prime minister.
Fumio Kishida, a soft-spoken moderate and a former foreign minister, will lead Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into the general elections that must be held by Nov. 28.
He was chosen after winning a razor-tight race.
Kishida initially secured 256 votes from LDP members—just one more vote than his opponent, Taro Kono– a U.S.-educated vaccination minister, who got 255 votes. Since Kishida didn’t get the needed absolute majority straight away, a second round of voting took place immediately after.
His win was declared after winning by 87 votes in the runoff.
Given that the LDP, which has almost continuously been in power since 1955, holds a majority in the parliament's powerful lower house, the winner of this election is likely to be Japan’s next leader.
This election comes after former prime minister Yoshihide Suga stepped down from his position earlier this month amidst strong public disapproval of his handling of the pandemic and the summer Olympics. Suga was only in power for about a year, having taken the place of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who left his post last year due to poor health.
Kishida, who was viewed as the safe choice among party members, does not enjoy the same popularity among the public, having ranked second to Kono in recent polls. Despite that, parliamentary power prevailed over public opinion, and the 64-year-old official will likely be the third prime minister Japan has seen in a single year.
Among his policies, the new LDP leader has pledged to create a multi-trillion stimulus package to help Japan’s suffering economy due to the pandemic. Kishida also believes greater wealth should be distributed to households, and has indicated maintaining a strong diplomatic relationship with the United States against China.
Hailing from a political family, the Hiroshima native and long-time baseball fan has also been a firm advocate of a “world free of nuclear weapons.” He was instrumental in organizing the former U.S. President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to the city in 2016. Kishida also ran for LDP party leader when Abe stepped down, but failed to secure votes.
Though more liberal than the hard-line conservative female candidate Sanae Takaichi–who has argued Japanese atrocities during WWII have been exaggerated–Kishida is considered less progressive about certain social beliefs.
Kishida hasn’t “reached a point of accepting same-sex marriage,” nor has he outrightly criticized Japan’s law enforcing couples to share the same surname, the Japan Times reported. On the other hand, the other leading candidate Kono with his 2.4 million Twitter followers and wide public support, has supported the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The other two candidates–Takaichi who is backed by Abe, and Seiko Noda, the deputy secretary-general–were eliminated in the first round.