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Over 30% of lawmakers in Japan's LDP back Kishida in leadership race, Kono, Takaichi follow

The four candidates running in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election: from left, Fumio Kishida, Taro Kono, Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- More than 30% of 382 Diet members belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appear to support the party's former policy council head Fumio Kishida, in the upcoming LDP presidential election, followed by COVID-19 vaccine minister Taro Kono, in the mid-20% range and former communications minister Sanae Takaichi, at around 20%.

    LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Seiko Noda has so far gained less than 10% of support among her fellow Diet members, meaning that the race -- whose winner will likely become Japan's next prime minister -- is shaping up to be a competition between the three candidates in the initial stage of the campaign as of Sept. 19.

    The Mainichi Shimbun analyzed standings for the Sept. 29 election based on interviews with Diet members and their secretaries, among other poll subjects. Some 20% either remained undecided, or which candidate they supported was unknown.

    The number of votes to be cast by Diet members now totals 382 following the recent death of former LDP General Council Chairperson Wataru Takeshita, head of the Takeshita faction. An additional 382 votes will come from party members based on voting by party members and non-party member supporters. If a candidate wins a majority of the 764 total votes up for grabs, he or she will become the LDP's next president. But if no candidate wins a majority, a runoff election will be held between the initial round's top two candidates who will then vie for 429 votes -- 382 from Diet members and 47 from each of Japan's prefectures.

    As the House of Representatives election is scheduled soon after the LDP presidential race, Diet members could change their mind depending on public opinion polls and how party members vote in the leadership race.

    Kishida, 64, has garnered full-out support from his own 46-member faction, while increasing his standing within the 51-member Takeshita faction and former LDP president Sadakazu Tanigaki's group, among other in-house groups. Kishida's campaign has also touched the largest Hiroyuki Hosoda faction with 96 members as well as the 53-member Taro Aso faction, to which Taro Kono belongs.

    Administrative reform minister Kono, 58, has gained support from the Aso faction and half of the 10-member Ishihara faction headed by Nobuteru Ishihara, as well as from some 40% of the 47-member faction of Toshihiro Nikai. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also announced his support for Kono, and middle-ranking and junior lawmakers who have no faction affiliation and are also close to Suga are expected to follow the outgoing prime minister's steps. The majority of lawmakers belonging to the 17-member faction of Shigeru Ishiba will likely vote for Kono, after Ishiba himself said he would support Kono.

    Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared his support for Takaichi, 60, and more than half of the members of the Hosoda faction, from which Abe hails, have indicated that they will support Takaichi as well. Her support base has also reached the non-faction affiliated conservative camp within the LDP. Abe is putting effort into expanding the support base for Takaichi, and a middle-ranking Hosoda faction member predicts that "a large chunk (of the faction) could move to support Ms. Takaichi if she gains momentum."

    Noda, 61, was late in the game and announced her candidacy on Sept. 16, a day before the official campaign kicked off. While some of Nikai faction and Takeshita faction members as well as lawmakers who don't belong to any faction have indicated they would vote for her, the decisive factor will be how much support Noda can gain from lawmakers other than her endorsers.

    The four candidates are seeking to add as many Diet member votes as possible while trying to boost support from party members. Meanwhile, in a Sept. 18 public opinion poll jointly conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun and the Social Survey Research Center, 43% of respondents said they wanted Kono to be the next LDP leader, while Takaichi was picked by 15%, Kishida by 13% and Noda by 6%.

    (Compiled by Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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