Japan ex-diplomat Kishida wins party vote, to become new PM

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2021, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga leaves after a news conference at his office in Tokyo. Japan's governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 to pick its new leader who is presumed next prime minister with crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring strong alliance with Washington amid growing security risks from China and North Korea.(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP, File)





FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2021, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga leaves after a news conference at his office in Tokyo. Japan's governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 to pick its new leader who is presumed next prime minister with crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring strong alliance with Washington amid growing security risks from China and North Korea.(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2021, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga leaves after a news conference at his office in Tokyo. Japan’s governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 to pick its new leader who is presumed next prime minister with crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring strong alliance with Washington amid growing security risks from China and North Korea.(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida won the governing party leadership election on Wednesday and is set to become the next prime minister, facing the imminent task of addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington to counter growing regional security risks.

Kishida replaces outgoing party leader Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after serving only one year since taking office last September.

As new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida is certain to be elected the next prime minister on Monday in parliament, where his party and coalition partner control the house.

Kishida beat popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono in a runoff after finishing only one vote ahead of him in the first round where none of the four candidates, including two women, was able to win a majority.

Results showed Kishida had more support from party heavyweights who apparently chose stability over change advocated by Kono, who is known as something of a maverick.


FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, candidates for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a joint news conference at the party's headquarters in Tokyo. Japan's governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 to pick its new leader who is presumed next prime minister with crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring strong alliance with Washington amid growing security risks from China and North Korea. The contenders are, from left to right, Taro Kono, the cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations, Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, Sanae Takaichi, former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, former internal affairs minister. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, candidates for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a joint news conference at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo. Japan’s governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 to pick its new leader who is presumed next prime minister with crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring strong alliance with Washington amid growing security risks from China and North Korea. The contenders are, from left to right, Taro Kono, the cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations, Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister, Sanae Takaichi, former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, former internal affairs minister. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP, File)

The new leader is under pressure to change the party’s high-handed reputation worsened by Suga, who angered the public over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and insistence on holding the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party desperately needs to quickly turn around plunging public support ahead of lower house elections coming within two months.

Kishida called for growth and distribution under his “new capitalism,” saying that the economy under Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had only benefited big companies.


Votes are counted during the Liberal Democrat Party leadership election in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Japan's governing party is voting to pick its new leader, with the presumed next prime minister facing imminent, crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington amid growing regional security risks. (Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP)

Votes are counted during the Liberal Democrat Party leadership election in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Japan’s governing party is voting to pick its new leader, with the presumed next prime minister facing imminent, crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington amid growing regional security risks. (Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP)

Overall, little change is expected in key diplomatic and security policies under the new leader, said Yu Uchiyama, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo.

All of the candidates support close Japan-U.S. security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia and Europe, in part to counter China’s growing influence and a threat from nuclear-armed North Korea.

Wednesday’s vote was seen as a test of whether the party can move out of Abe’s shadow. His influence in government and party affairs has largely muzzled diverse views and shifted the party to the right.

Kishida is also seen as a choice who could prolong an era of unusual political stability amid fears that Japan could return to “revolving door” leadership.

“Concern is not about individuals but stability of Japanese politics,” Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told a telephone briefing ahead of the vote. “It’s about whether or not we are entering a period in Japanese politics of instability and short-term prime ministership,” he said. “It makes it very hard to move forward on agenda.”

Suga is leaving only a year after taking office as a pinch hitter for Abe, who suddenly resigned over health problems, ending his nearly eight-year leadership, the longest in Japan’s constitutional history.


The pictures of Liberal Democrat Party leadership candidates Taro Kono, left, and Fumio Kishida are displayed on a screen during the party leadership election in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Japan's governing party vote to pick a new leader entered a second round Wednesday, with the presumed next prime minister facing imminent, crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington amid growing regional security risks. (Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP)

The pictures of Liberal Democrat Party leadership candidates Taro Kono, left, and Fumio Kishida are displayed on a screen during the party leadership election in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Japan’s governing party vote to pick a new leader entered a second round Wednesday, with the presumed next prime minister facing imminent, crucial tasks such as addressing a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington amid growing regional security risks. (Carl Court/Pool Photo via AP)



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