• Reuters

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An influential member of the ruling party said Tuesday that he still backed the re-election of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as party leader, a post that ensures he would remain prime minister.

Suga has said he would run in the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership race for another term as head of the party. A former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is likely to challenge him in the vote, which is expected next month, the Sankei newspaper reported.

“I haven’t changed my stance of supporting the prime minister’s re-appointment,” Toshihiro Nikai, a party veteran who leads a major faction in it, said at a new conference, referring to the top party post.

Nikai, who said he planned to meet Suga on Wednesday to discuss “the future of the party and the country,” is considered one of the party’s most powerful lawmakers.

He played a major role in Suga’s victory in the last LDP leadership race last year, which led to him succeeding Shinzo Abe as prime minister in September.

Suga’s administration has seen support plunge over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to calls within the party for it to pick a new face as leader ahead of a general election that must be held by October.

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