'I, Fumio Kishida, Have a Special Skill of Listening to People'

He is now Japan's new prime minister
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 29, 2021 8:13 AM CDT
Updated Oct 4, 2021 12:19 AM CDT
An 'Unusually Suspenseful Race' Is Decided in Japan
Japan’s former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida bows as he won in the Liberal Democrat Party leadership election in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Kishida has won the governing party leadership election and is set to be become the next prime minister.   (Kyodo News via AP)

Update: Fumio Kishida has officially replaced Yoshihide Suga as prime minister of Japan. The country's parliament formally elected him to the position Monday, after Suga's resignation earlier in the day, the AP reports. Our original story from Sept. 29 follows:

Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida won the governing party's leadership election on Wednesday and is set to become the next prime minister—the country's 100th—facing the tasks of reviving a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington, DC, to counter growing regional security risks. Kishida replaces outgoing party leader Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after serving only one year. As new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida is certain to be elected the next prime minister on Monday in parliament, where his party and its coalition partner control both houses.

In what NBC News calls "unusually suspenseful race for leadership of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party," Kishida defeated popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono in a runoff after finishing only one vote ahead of him in the first round, in which none of the four candidates, including two women, was able to win a majority. In a landslide 257-170 victory in the second round, Kishida received support from party heavyweights who apparently chose stability over change advocated by Kono, who is known as something of a maverick and a reformist but who polls showed had much more public support.

Kishida is under pressure to change the party's high-handed reputation, worsened by Suga, who angered the public over his handling of the pandemic and insistence on holding the Summer Olympics in Tokyo despite surging infections, reports the AP. Kishida said he heard many voters in the past year complaining that they were being ignored. "I felt our democracy is in a crisis," he said in his speech. "I, Fumio Kishida, have a special skill of listening to people. I am determined to make an effort toward making a more open LDP and a bright future for Japan together with you all."

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The 64-year-old former foreign minister was once seen as an indecisive moderate. Lately, however, he has shifted to become a security and diplomatic hawk as he sought support from influential conservatives to win the party election. Kishida has called for a further increase in Japan’s defense capability and budget, and vowed to stand up to China in tensions over self-ruled Taiwan that China claims as part of its territory, and Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. On the economy, Kishida has called for a “new capitalism” of growth and distribution to narrow the income gap. (More Japan stories.)

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