Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida won the governing party’s leadership election on Wednesday and is set to become the next prime minister.
In his victory speech, Kishida vowed to tackle “national crises” including COVID-19, the pandemic-battered economy and the declining population and birthrate.
He said he would pursue “important issues related to Japan’s future” through a vision of “a free and open Indo-Pacific” that counters China’s assertiveness in the region.
He faces the tasks of reviving a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington 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.
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.
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.