Popular Kono joins race for Japan prime minister role


TOKYO: Japan’s popular coronavirus vaccination minister, Taro Kono, announced his candidacy to lead the ruling party and, by extension, become the next prime minister, highlighting his image as an outspoken reformer with a conservative streak.

Kono becomes the third candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which opened up last week when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would step down.

Kono appears to have an edge over former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi in the race.

Nearly a third of respondents in a poll by major domestic media last week said the Georgetown University-educated Kono, 58, was the most suitable to succeed Suga.

“I will run in the race for LDP leader,” said Kono yesterday, adding he would be an empathetic leader who “laughs and cries together” with the Japanese people, and would aim to create a “warm” country where everyone who worked hard had a chance to succeed.Previously known as a strong critic of nuclear energy, Kono sounded a more cautious tone in a two-page policy brief handed to reporters gathered to hear him declare his candidacy.

“We will carry out a realistic energy policy which will be reassuring for industry,” said the paper, which also highlighted the importance of promoting digitalisation and green technologies.

The winner of the Sept 29 vote of grass-roots LDP members and its lawmakers is virtually assured the premiership because the LDP has a majority in parliament’s lower house, which must hold an election by Nov 28.

Kono, who has been in charge of a rocky vaccination rollout, has remained popular, particularly among younger voters.

That is partly thanks to his ability to reach out to the public through Twitter, where he has 2.3 million followers – a rarity in heavily scripted Japanese politics dominated by older men less adept with social media. — Reuters

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