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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has emerged as the front-runner in the ruling party’s leadership race at an early stage due to a boost from remarks made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sources familiar with the situation said.

Last Friday when he announced his resignation, Abe told an aide that he wanted to leave it to Suga next. Abe also said that even if he did not say anything, calls for Suga to run in the race would emerge.

The remarks prompted a majority of Liberal Democratic Party factions to support Suga. Abe may maintain his influence on the next administration if Suga wins the race.

The outgoing prime minister had long planned to hand over the reins to LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida to prevent former party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, a critic of Abe, from taking power.

But Abe started expressing his concerns over Kishida, who had failed to garner sufficient support, before announcing his resignation. Abe also told aides that he did not mind if Suga wins.

On Monday, Abe met with Kishida and said he could not nominate him as his successor.

Abe’s remarks in favor of Suga have fostered a recognition that the chief Cabinet secretary has been effectively nominated by the prime minister as his successor, a veteran LDP member said.

Suga said he did not consult anyone about whether he should run in the LDP race. But Suga knew of Abe’s intention to support him by Aug. 29 at the latest and told LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai of his plan to run in the race that day, informed sources said.

One source linked to the party said Nikai’s faction decided to support Suga on Sunday as the secretary-general was aware of Abe’s remarks.

The faction led by former LDP Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda, which is Abe’s home faction, declared its support for Suga after being informed on Monday that the prime minister views the chief cabinet secretary as his successor.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, an ally of Abe, held a 30-minute talk with the prime minister on Aug. 28. On Sunday, Aso told Kishida that he could not support him unless the LDP policy chief wins Abe’s backing.

Aso told members of his faction to support Suga after confirming that Kishida had failed to win support from Abe on Monday.

The public approval rating for the Abe Cabinet improved dramatically after the prime minister announced his resignation due to illness.

Abe’s influence is “still huge,” a former Cabinet minister in the LDP said. “If Suga wins, he would have to consult Abe on personnel affairs.”

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