LDP leadership race to be Japan’s next PM likely to end with runoff, Yomiuri survey says

Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via REUTERS
A combination picture shows the contenders for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan’s State Minister In Charge Of Administrative Reform Taro Kono, Japan’s former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan’s former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, and Japan’s former Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, 17 September 2021.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election seems all but certain to head to a runoff, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun’s final survey ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

While Taro Kono seems to be the most popular candidate, he looks likely to fall short of gaining a majority of votes in the election. This would force the administrative and regulatory reform minister into a runoff the same day with the second-place candidate.

As of Sunday, the survey confirmed the intentions of 381 of the 382 LDP Diet members who will vote, with former LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Fumio Kishida supported by 127 members, followed by Kono at 103. Former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi has the support of 82 members, with LDP Executive Acting Secretary General Seiko Noda at 21. The remaining LDP Diet members have not yet decided.

Combined with an earlier survey on the LDP’s rank-and-file members and members of affiliated groups, however, Kono seemingly has the most support.

Kishida, who leads a 46-member intraparty faction, has been able to gain wider support mainly from veteran lawmakers of the 96-member Hosoda faction and 53-member Aso faction to which Kono belongs. Kishida has also earned support from about 40% of the Takeshita faction’s 51 members, which has yet to decide who to support as a faction.

Kono has the support of more than half the Aso faction and more than 30% of the 47-member Nikai faction. He is also favored by most of the faction-less LDP lawmakers who are close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and most of the 17 members of the Ishiba faction.

Takaichi has secured not only more than half the votes from the Hosoda faction, but also has support from the Nikai and Takeshita factions.

Noda is struggling to increase her support since securing the required 20 nominations from LDP Diet members to qualify for the race.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An illustration : Possible vote breakdown

As for rank-and-file LDP members, whose overall votes will be apportioned to make up 382 votes to correspond with that of LDP Diet members, The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a telephone survey from Sept. 18 to 19.

Extrapolating that survey’s responses to fill 382 rank-and-file votes, Kono would have 177 additional votes, Kishida 94, Takaichi 86 and Noda 25. Based on the surveys, the total votes would be 280 for Kono, 221 for Kishida, 168 for Takaichi and 46 for Noda, suggesting that even if Kono receives all the support from the 49 Diet members who have not decided or responded, he will still receive under the 383 needed for a majority.

Of course, LDP voters are free to change how they will vote from hearing debates and discussions among the candidates.

Many of the Hosoda faction’s 36 House of Councillors members are reluctant to reveal their preference. These faction members have a strong bond with the LDP’s upper house secretary general, Hiroshige Seko, and their votes will be a focal point of the race.

A runoff between the top two finishers will be voted on by the same 382 Diet members, with 47 additional votes going to each of the LDP’s prefectural chapters.

While factions generally allow their members to vote at their own discretion, if there is a runoff, each faction generally intends its entire membership to support a single candidate, so political maneuvering is likely to become fierce in light of the circumstances.