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Japan’s LDP presidential candidates vying for local votes

The three candidates competing to be the new president of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Thursday continued their campaign with a focus on local votes after the leadership race officially kicked off on Tuesday.

The race is between Yoshihide Suga, 71, Japan’s top government spokesperson and Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shigeru Ishiba, 63, a former defense minister, and Fumio Kishida, 63, the LDP’s policy chief.

Suga, seen as a top pick to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Thursday visited the offices of party lawmakers to seek their support. One of them from the Lower House assured Suga that the LDP branches in his home prefecture will back him in the election.

Later in the day, Suga held online discussions with regional assembly members. He reiterated his proposal to create a tentatively-named “Digital Agency” project to help promote the efficiency of local governments.

Suga, who already has the backing of the majority of LDP lawmakers, has promised to continue with Abe’s economic policies and approach to tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic.

He has also said that if he is picked to succeed Abe he would choose reform-minded people and specialists to join his Cabinet.

Ishiba, a rare critic of Abe within the party, referred to the upcoming tenth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011 when speaking to reporters in Tokyo on Thursday.

The LDP was in opposition at that time and he was its policy chief, he said, adding that his visit to the affected regions prompted him to propose the creation of the Reconstruction Agency and he would appeal for the establishment of a new ministry for disaster control and prevention.

Later in the day, Ishiba visited Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and exchanged views with local residents.

Kishida, for his part, visited Kurihara City of Miyagi Prefecture on Thursday, where he spoke with farmers who are worried about a possible decline in rice prices due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He promised to take political actions to help stabilize rice prices and enjoyed eating rice balls beside a rice paddy.

After that, he went to Fukushima Prefecture and pledged to help revive the local hot spring industry.

The LDP decided to hold a scaled-down version of the leadership election next Monday so that Abe’s successor could be selected quickly, without creating a vacuum or causing distraction from the government’s efforts to combat the COVID-19.

In the scaled-down vote, 394 Diet members will cast ballots and a total of 141 votes will be cast by three delegates each from the country’s 47 prefectural chapters.

The winner of the election is almost certain to become the next prime minister owing to the LDP’s majority in both chambers of Japan’s bicameral parliament.

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