It means he is almost certain to become premier at Monday’s parliamentary session because of the LDP’s majority in the legislature, and so will succeed the unpopular Yoshihide Suga, who did not seek re-election as party leader after only one year in office.
Kishida won the runoff 257-170 against the U.S.-educated Taro Kono, Japan’s outspoken vaccine chief who was considered to be more popular and has appeal among younger voters with more than 2.5 million followers on Twitter.
However, Kishida, 64, is seen as a safe pair of hands and—despite his blander image—will focus on populist issues such as the need to develop a new kind of capitalism, Reuters reported.
“Kishida stands for stability, for not rocking the boat and most importantly, doing what elite technocrats tell him to do,” Jesper Koll, expert director at Monex Group told the news agency.
A moderate-liberal politician, Kishida is expected to steer his conservative party slightly to the left.
Born in Shibuya, Tokyo, Kishida hails from a political family in which his father and grandfather were also lower house members. He is also a distant relation of former prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa.
He attended elementary school in the New York City borough of Queens when his father was posted to a job in the city, The Wall Street Journal reported.
After working at Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, he became a lawmaker and was first elected to parliament in 1993.
Representing Hiroshima and an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, Kishida escorted former President Barack Obama during a 2016 visit to the city destroyed, along with Nagasaki, by U.S. atomic bombs at the end of World War II.
As foreign minister between 2012 to 2017, under former prime minister Shinzo Abe, he struck a deal with South Korea over women in the country sexually abused by Japan’s wartime military, an issue which remains a thorn in the ties between the countries.
His immediate tasks will be to form a new cabinet and reshuffle the top part of his LDP party ahead of an expected dissolution of parliament in mid-October, and before an election in the first two weeks of November, Reuters reported.
Key issues in the in-tray for the new prime minister will be Japan’s coronavirus pandemic response, a stagnant economy and countering the regional dominance of China.
Michael Green, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said according to the Associated Press that Japanese voters will be watching to see if he listens to the public, or is more influenced by the power politics of his party.
However, there is unlikely to be a major foreign policy shift coming from Tokyo under Kishida’s premiership.
Japan’s priorities will remain boosting its defences, preserving economic ties with Beijing and strengthening security ties with the U.S. and partners like the QUAD group, which includes Australia and India.
“From a security standpoint, diplomatic standpoint, I don’t think we’re going to see much change,” Japanese security expert Jeffrey Hornung told The Washington Post.
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