Popular Japanese Vaccine Minister Kono enters race for ruling party leader, could become next PM

Japan’s popular vaccine minister, Taro Kono, has announced his bid to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the ruling party’s upcoming leadership election, making him the third candidate to enter the race.

On Friday, Kono held a press conference and officially announced his candidacy for leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the September 29 election. The vaccine minister promised that he will “move Japan forward,” and pledged that Tokyo’s inoculation campaign will be one of the best among the G7 countries by October.

The winner of the LDP leadership contest is, by extension, almost guaranteed to become prime minister, as the party boasts a majority in the parliament’s lower house, which must hold an election by the end of November.

Kono is the third candidate to officially declare their intention to run for leadership of the LDP. He will be up against former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and ex-Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi.

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A poll conducted by Kyodo News found that nearly a third of respondents would rather Kono become Suga’s successor, with only 19% favoring Kishida. The vaccine minister also enjoys popularity amongst the country’s youth, and has over 2.3 million followers on his Japanese-language Twitter account.

Incumbent Prime Minister Suga said last week that he will not stand for reelection as the party’s leader, after receiving criticism over his handling of the pandemic. The leader stated that he wanted to focus on battling the domestic Covid crisis, with the East Asian nation having recorded over 1.6 million infections since the pandemic broke out.

Japan’s vaccination campaign has recently been marred by a number of botched batches of Moderna’s Covid jab, resulting in authorities halting the distribution of around 2.6 million doses after discovering foreign substances in several vials. Three people died following vaccination, sparking an inquiry into their causes of death.

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