Japan’s ruling party on Monday elected chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga as its new leader, making him all but certain to replace Shinzo Abe as the country’s next prime minister.
Mr Suga easily won the ballot, taking 377 of a total of 534 valid votes from Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and regional representatives.
His rivals, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, trailed far behind.
Given the LDP’s legislative majority, Yoshihide Suga is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote Wednesday and become prime minister, taking over from Abe, who is resigning for health reasons.
A powerful government adviser and spokesman, 71-year-old Suga is seen as promising stability and a continuation of Abe’s policies.
He has specifically said his candidacy was motivated by a desire to continue the outgoing prime minister’s programmes.
Shinzo Abe, who smashed records as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister before being forced to resign after a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, declined to publicly endorse any candidate.
As prime minister, Mr Suga will face a series of tough challenges, including containing the coronavirus and righting the world’s third-biggest economy, which was in recession even before the pandemic.