Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto will emerge as the favorites to succeed Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori when the likelihood of his resignation increases come spring or summer, according to a veteran political analyst.

"I'd say Kono will become the strongest candidate if the Liberal Democratic Party decides to move forward its presidential election, while Hashimoto is likely to replace Mori when the LDP suffers a devastating loss in next summer's House of Councilors election," Minoru Morita said Thursday at the Foreign Press Center in Tokyo.

Morita indicated that February, when the House of Representatives Budget Committee is scheduled to hold talks, will be a crucial time for Mori because members of the LDP, which he heads, could plot his Cabinet's downfall by leaking scandalous information about him.