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Influential politicians close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have started raising doubts about promoting Fumio Kishida, the ruling party’s policy chief, as a potential successor to Abe.

The clout of Kishida, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, is not said to be growing within the party.

Plans have emerged to back Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga instead of Kishida, in an effort in line with Abe’s wishes to prevent former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba from taking power, sources familiar with the situation said.

“Kishida is for peacetime, not for troubled times,” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso told a colleague recently, indicating a change in his support for Kishida’s succession.

Earlier this year, Kishida’s COVID-19 relief plan was scrapped in favor of another idea pushed by Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, illustrating his lack of influence.

In addition, Kishida lags far behind Ishiba in public opinion polls on the most suitable person to be prime minister after Abe.

“He would lose to Ishiba” in an LDP leadership race, an aide to Abe said of Kishida, revealing a sense of crisis.

One Cabinet member who is highly trusted by Abe said it would be better to have Suga succeed Abe. Suga has some support within the LDP and a good relationship with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.

Abe is said to have been aware of concerns over Kishida but is hesitant to withdraw his support of the party policy chief.

Abe pushed Kishida not to run in the 2018 LDP presidential election, in order to consolidate his own support, by suggesting that he would support Kishida as his successor in the future.

If choosing a successor to Abe becomes more focused on finding the most popular candidate among the public, it is hard to dismiss the possibility of a landslide victory for Ishiba, who is well known.

“I wish (Kishida) would send more messages to the public,” Abe told a senior LDP official in the Kishida faction.

Abe may change his attitude toward Kishida, depending on the situation, according to sources familiar with his thinking.

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