Polls show Japan's ex-defence minister most popular as next PM

Opinion polls show former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba is the most popular choice among the public to be Japan’s next prime minister as the race kicks off to succeed Shinzo Abe following his abrupt resignation.

Ishiba has about 34 percent of the public’s support, more than double the 14 percent for Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the second-most popular choice, a weekend Kyodo News survey showed.

A Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll showed 63-year-old Ishiba with 28 percent support, followed by current Defence Minister Taro Kono with 15 percent. Suga was in fourth place with 11 percent, the poll showed.

The surveys highlight a split between public opinion and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party where factional support is crucial, and analysts say Ishiba has maintained few friends.

Suga – a longtime lieutenant of Abe’s in a key supporting role – is expected to get the backing of the faction led by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and of other major factions, local media reported.

Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe resigns because of ill-health

That would make it an uphill battle for Ishiba, a rare critic of Abe within the LDP who mounted an unsuccessful challenge against him in the party’s last leadership race in 2018.

Lacking charisma

Another potential candidate, LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, who was also foreign minister until 2017 and is said to be favoured by Abe, came in last place in both of the public opinion surveys.

Abe’s resignation announcement on Friday, citing the worsening of a chronic illness, set the stage for the leadership election. Public broadcaster NHK said the contest was likely to place around September 13 to 15.

The LDP president is virtually assured of being prime minister because of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.

Japan’s top government spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga could emerge as Japan’s next prime minister because of his factional support within the ruling LDP. But he is not so popular among voters [Issei Kato/Reuters]

Brad Glosserman, deputy director of the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University, said Suga was the safe bet in terms of internal LDP dynamics, but might not be so appealing come election time. A general election must be held by late October 2021.

“He doesn’t seem to have either the charisma or the vision to push Japan in a new direction. He seems to be the eternal Number Two – he delivers on promises made by his boss,” Glosserman said. 

Reuters news agency

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