Two major factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including one led by Finance Minister Taro Aso, were set to support Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in a vote to pick the successor to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.
Suga, the government's top spokesman, has indicated he will stand in the elections, sources said. He is expected to announce his candidacy in the LDP leadership race after the party formally decides on Tuesday to hold the election on Sept. 14.
Aso, a longtime Abe ally, who himself held the top slot from 2008 to 2009, has said he will not seek a second turn in power, saying he would throw the support of his 54-member faction behind whoever can best implement policies that align with his thinking.
Meanwhile, Suga also officially garnered the support of LDP heavyweight and current Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai's faction, which boasts 47 members.
Earlier in the day, a group of lawmakers, including former farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa, met with Suga and urged him to join the race.
But perhaps more crucially for Suga's hopes, the LDP was also expected to reach a decision Tuesday that the election will be conducted with only Upper and Lower House party lawmakers voting. By invoking an emergency election clause in the party's bylaws, the move would leave out rank-and-file party members, thereby depriving one potential candidate, former defense chief Shigeru Ishiba, of a demographic believed essential for any chance at victory.
Late Monday, Nikai, who is overseeing how the election process will be handled, was delivered a petition signed by more than 140 lawmakers and around 400 local assembly members demanding that rank-and-file party members also be allowed to vote in the election. It was not immediately clear how this would affect the process.
Ishiba has indicated a desire to throw his hat into the ring, but has not officially said he will enter the race. A Kyodo News survey on Sunday had shown him as the most popular choice to be the nation's next prime minister.
Also Monday, former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida — the onetime front-runner — asked Abe to support him in the leadership race that was triggered by the prime minister's sudden announcement Friday to step down as the country's leader.
The day also saw two other contenders, including economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading the government's coronavirus response effort, say they would not seek the party's top leadership post. Media reports said Defense Minister Taro Kono would also not run for the party presidency.