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Speculation is emerging that Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai may ally with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in the next LDP election to pick the successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The view was sparked by a series of remarks and moves indicating that Nikai, the ruling party’s secretary-general, and Suga, the top government spokesman, are getting closer to each other.

Nikai and Suga have showered each other with compliments. The two, both former local politicians, also joined an initiative to form a group of lawmakers for regional revitalization, which will start business next month.

Nikai “is exceptional in his view of political situations and overall politics,” Suga said in a television program broadcast July 30. “He is a really reliable secretary-general for the Cabinet.”

Nikai said in a TV program aired Aug. 7 that Suga is “playing an active role as a wonderful leader.”

“Without regional revitalization, Japan’s development is impossible,” Suga, a former Yokohama Municipal Assembly member, said in a monthly magazine released Aug. 7.

He described Nikai, a former Wakayama Prefectural Assembly member, as a politician who shares this view.

Nikai, for his part, sees Suga as a politician who “can talk in the same language,” said a source at the LDP faction led by the secretary-general.

Nikai and Suga shared interests in LDP executive appointments in September last year.

Abe wanted to replace Nikai with party policy chief Fumio Kishida as secretary-general, but the Nikai side was opposed. Suga, who values the role of Nikai as an LDP heavyweight, followed suit. Both Nikai and Kishida were kept in their respective posts.

With just over one year left before Abe’s term as LDP president ends, former Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba and Kishida have started vying for the leadership.

While neither Ishiba or Kishida has gained wide support, Suga is emerging as a possible third candidate.

A lawmaker from Nikai’s faction said that Nikai would back Suga if he joins the LDP race. Nikai would stay on as secretary-general if Suga becomes party leader and then prime minister, the lawmaker added.

Both Ishiba and Kishida are seeking support from Nikai, regarding him as the key person in the post-Abe leadership race.

Nikai called Ishiba “the most experienced politician” and “one of the rising stars” while saying that Kishida “has a bright future ahead of him.”

The planned lawmaker group for regional revitalization will be joined by LDP bigwigs such as former Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda, who leads the party’s largest faction, and General Council Chairman Shunichi Suzuki.

Other expected participants from the LDP include Motoo Hayashi, acting secretary-general and a close aide to Nikai, and parliamentary affairs head Hiroshi Moriyama, who is close to Suga.

The group is expected to provide Nikai and Suga with opportunities to impress LDP regional members, who cast votes in the LDP election, with their emphasis on regional economies.

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