A former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, was chosen by Japan’s ruling party as the country’s next prime minister on Wednesday, marking a victory for elite power brokers over popular opinion.
As a result of their selection of Mr. Kishida, 64, an established party member with moderate views, the Liberal Democratic Party’s elites appeared to have disregarded public opinion and chosen a candidate who offered little to distinguish himself from the widely despised departing prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, in a runoff election for the party’s leadership.
The leadership election on Wednesday was the most fiercely fought in many years. It was not apparent whether Mr. Kishida would win until the votes were tallied in a second round at a luxurious Tokyo hotel, contrary to the normal practice of party leaders uniting behind a candidate.
Mr. Kishida beat his main opponent, Taro Kono, an outspoken American-educated maverick, in a runoff vote controlled by the party’s members of Parliament, 257 to 170, in a vote dominated by party members of Parliament.
He had had little support from the general public or the party’s grassroots members prior to his election as chairman. However, the conservative side of the party, which controls Parliament, favored Mr. Kishida over Mr. Kono, 58, the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination rollout. Mr. Kishida is the prime minister of Japan.
During a special session scheduled for early next month, the Japanese Parliament will formally choose the next prime minister. Given that the Liberal Democrats now have a majority in the legislature, Mr. Kishida’s appointment is almost certain. He will also serve as the party’s presidential candidate in a general election that must be conducted by the end of November.
Through its decision to go with a safe set of hands, the party seemed to express confidence in its ability to win in the autumn election, while selecting a president who had only moderate popular support.
A year in which people became more dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the epidemic and its accompanying economic problems, the party seems to be banking on the opposition’s incapacity to challenge it as well as the public’s willingness to accept things as they are.
In his campaign, Mr. Kishida seemed to recognize some popular discontent with the status quo, promising to create a “new capitalism” and push corporations to give a greater proportion of their earnings to middle-class employees.
His actions are consistent with the Liberal Democratic Party’s history of embracing measures originally proposed by the opposition in order to keep supporters satisfied.
The party leadership election was noteworthy for the fact that it was the first time two women competed for the position of party leader. A hard-line conservative supported by Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Sanae Takaichi (60), and a left-leaning legislator, Seiko Noda (61), who advocated for more rights for women, the elderly, and people with disabilities, were both eliminated in the first round.