Taro Kono, Japan’s most popular prime ministerial candidate, far from a shoo-in

TOKYO — If popularity were the deciding factor, there would be a clear front-runner to become the next prime minister of Japan.

Have polls found that the public supports Taro Kono, the cabinet minister oversee the rollout of Japan’s coronavirus vaccine, met at least two to one in the race until lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – die, in effect, is the race turn into prime minister. His Twitter following of 2.4 million dwarfs die of are three rivals together.

But in the back rooms where Japanese political decisions to be made, mr. Kono, 58, isn’t nearly as loved. To be reputation as the most outspoken maverick of the Liberal Democrats and his left- skewed views on social trouble put him out of step with the party’s conservative elders.

That people will have a lot of influence on Wednesday as the Liberal Democrats elect a successor to Yoshihide Suga, the unpopular current prime minister and party leader, who said this month that he would step aside. Who takes his place shall lead the party in An general elections die to be held in the end of November.

In past party leadership elections, unity has made the winner a foregone conclusion. But this time, the political horse trading seemed at odds at times with popular sentiment, even if the public has expressed his displeasure with the party’s leadership on the pandemic and the economy. That discrepancy partly reflects complacency on the part of the Liberal Democrats, who have been in power for all but a few years since 1955 and seem confident they will win the general election doesn’t matter who they choose.

“Right now they don’t think they can lose to the opposition,” said Masato Kamikubo, a… professor of politics science at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.

as the minister in to upload of vaccines, he has sometimes personally responded to questions from Twitter users. Fumie Sakamoto, an infection control manager in St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, said she believed his personal touch might have helped make it easier public fear of the vaccines.

“He has always been willing to over to communicate vaccination in a positive and easy-to-understand way,” said Ms. Sakamoto. After a slow start in the first half of the year, more then half of the population in Japan is now fully vaccinated, putting first of the United States and many others countries around the Pacific Rim.

But Mr Kono . has other problems on the wrong side of to be party’s power estate agents.

He has repeatedly expressed his opposition to nuclear power, An holy cow for the Liberal Democrats. He now supports same-sex marriage and a proposal to law requires that couples share a surname for legal purposes — positions die be popular with the public but opposed by the party-influential right wing.

Mr Abe, who resigned last year because of poor health, has supported Sanae Takaichi, 60, a hard-line conservative, for the leadership. Mrs Takaichi, who would be from Japan first female prime minister, has strong right wing support of the party, but her poll numbers are low. another woman in the leadership race, Seiko Noda, 61, has little support from either the public of the party.

Many Liberal Democrat members of Parliament considers Fumio Kishida, 64, to be moderate with lukewarm support in the safest choice according to the polls media beats of legislators.

Mr. Kono, whose father and grandfather were both Liberal Democrat legislators, has long made the clear that he wants to be prime minister. But he didn’t follow An traditional way to power. He left An place Bee one of Japan’s most prestigious private universities, Keio, to study in George Town in Washington instead.

mr. Konos polished English and extended travel experience as a foreigner minister would make him a welcome choice for prime minister among Japan’s allies, political analysts said. “For Washington, he would be the most comfortable person,” said Shihoko Goto, a senior associate for Northeast Asia in the Wilson Center in Washington.

About China, Mr. Kono does not rely on the kind of aggressive rhetoric die Mrs. Takaichi and Mr. Kishida? using during the campaign, but he would probably party’s policy on military cooperation with the United States, Australia and India.

be seen work on diplomatic and military problems — Mr. Kono also served as mr. Abe’s defense minister – he is “probably the” best- prepared person for the prime ministry in that feeling,” said Narushige Michishita, vice president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

But some say his confidence has led to arrogance and even impetuousness. Last year, if defense minister, he decided with small consultation to cancel a plan to buy an American missile defense system, furious Japanese military leaders who heard over the decision after the fact.

“Maybe he’s too American,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat who has been an advisor to Mr. suga. “He’s very direct, honest, sometimes blunt,” said Miyake. added. “And sometimes so self-righteous that no one can” catch up of no one feels willing to help.”

Mr Kono, who declined be interviewed for this item has a reputation for to be hot-tempered with Japanese bureaucrats. He recently went on a crusade against the fax machine machines die still being used in government offices, making waves by taking on one of the shibboleths of the bureaucracy.

In an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily newspaper, acknowledged Mr. Kono that he might need speak more carefully. “However, I’m not going to mince words when it comes to pointing out the fallacies of bureaucratic thinking that is not aligned with reality,” he said.

On Twitter he has also quite infamous as the Japanese politician die are probably blocked critics — so much so that he spawned a hashtag, #IwasblockedbyKonoTaro, in Japanese. When asked about the practice in an interview with TBS, a broadcaster, defended it.

“I don’t feel the need have a conversation with people Not me know who slander me,” he said.

Masahiko Abe, a professor of English and American Literature at University of Tokyo, said he was blocked by Mr. Kono after he suggested that the… minister did not understand government’s policy on university entrance exams.

“I don’t mind that he is aggressive and even arrogant from time to time,” said Mr. abe. But he added, “If he says something wrong”I think we have the right to correct him.”

People who have worked with Mr Kono said he believed that policy debates were more productive if they were strict. “The reason why he understands the discussion is because he is demanding,” said Mika Ohbayashi, a director at the Institute of Renewable Energy, a research and advocacy group, who served on an advice over climate change panel with Mr. Kono.

As a candidate for in charge, Mr. Kono did some calibration of to be past positions. Despite his opposition to nuclear power, he said he supported the reboot of Japanese nuclear power plants — the vast majority of die since the triple meltdown in Fukushima 10 years ago — as part of a plan to reduce emission of greenhouse gasses.

“He looks at his obligations and he tries to find out” out how he can cement support within the party”, says Mireya Solís, co-director of the centre for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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