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Leadership race for opposition Japan Innovation Party begins

This combined photo shows candidates for the leadership of the Japan Innovation Party, from left, Nobuyuki Baba, Yasushi Adachi and Mizuho Umemura.(Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Three candidates entered the race for the leadership of the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin) on Sunday to succeed Ichiro Matsui, as the party steps up efforts to become the country's biggest opposition force after significantly increasing its parliamentary seats in the last two national elections.

    The conservative party's co-leader Nobuyuki Baba is seen as the most likely winner of the Aug. 27 election, ahead of the other candidates Yasushi Adachi and Mizuho Umemura.

    Baba has the support of Matsui, who also serves as Osaka mayor, and some other senior members of the party, which advocates for constitutional reform as one of its major policy platforms.

    "I will have an eye on reform while taking over the current (policy) framework. I'd like this leadership race to be an opportunity for our party to start a journey toward becoming a governing party," the 57-year-old told reporters in Osaka in western Japan.

    More than half of the party's lawmakers and local assembly members have expressed support for Baba, according to the party.

    The Japan Innovation Party has not joined other opposition parties to counter the dominant position of the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and its coalition partner Komeito. Known for its hawkish views on foreign policy, it is aligned with the LDP on constitutional reform among other issues.

    The leadership race will be the first since the Japan Innovation Party became a national political party with the launch in 2015 of its predecessor, named Initiatives from Osaka, under then Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

    The focus of the upcoming leadership election centers on the party's ability to broaden its support base from its traditional stronghold of Osaka and its vicinity to the rest of the nation.

    While Baba emphasized continuity with "the party's spirit" and the importance of expanding its strength nationwide during a joint speech event in Osaka, Adachi, 56, a former industry ministry official, said it should devote energy to local issues.

    Umemura, 43, a former freelance announcer, said she wants to renew the image of the party.

    Matsui said he will resign as leader after last month's House of Councillors election, in which the party fared well, doubling the number of seats it holds to 12.

    The party also nearly quadrupled the number of its House of Representatives seats in the lower house election in October.

    Matsui has said he plans to resign from politics when his mayoral term ends in April 2023 after the party's bid to reorganize the major western city into a metropolis akin to Tokyo was rejected for a second time in a referendum held in November 2020.

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