Japan’s ruling party elects Kishida as leader

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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) anointed former foreign minister Fumio Kishida as its new leader on Wednesday, a victory for the party elite that virtually ensures the soft-spoken consensus-builder will become prime minister within days.

Although he enjoys only moderate popular support and is saddled with a bland image, Kishida drew critical backing from some party heavyweights, allowing him to stop the momentum of outspoken rising star Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine roll-out.

The Hiroshima lawmaker succeeds unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who did not seek re-election as party leader after just one year in office. Kishida is almost certain to become premier at a parliamentary session on Monday because of the LDP’s majority in the lower house.

It was not clear if Kishida’s tepid profile might spell problems for the LDP in a general election due by Nov. 28.

He focused on populist issues – such as the need to forge a new kind of capitalism and ease divisions of wealth – in his first news conference.

“We can’t achieve strong growth if wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small group of people,” he said, citing a need to create a “virtuous cycle” of growth and wealth distribution.

“We will strive to achieve economic growth and distribution,” of wealth, Kishida added, promising housing and education aid to address income disparity.

He has proposed a spending package of more than 30 trillion yen ($270 billion), and on Wednesday he said that stimulus must be compiled by the year-end.

Kishida is expected to form a new cabinet and reshuffle the LDP executive in early October.

Parliament’s lower chamber will probably be dissolved in mid-October with an election on either Nov. 7 or Nov. 14, Japanese media said, quoting LDP executives.