• Kyodo

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Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is set to run in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race, sources close to him said Wednesday, pitting him against Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who doubles as head of the party.

Also on Wednesday, Suga told Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 LDP leader, that he has nothing against following the schedule for the party’s presidential election once it is set, a source familiar with their meeting said.

Suga’s term as LDP president is set to expire on Sept. 30, and the party is slated to decide Thursday on the schedule for its leadership race. The party plans to hold the election on Sept. 29, with campaigning starting on Sept. 17, party sources have said.

In the 30-minute meeting, Suga and Nikai also discussed the coronavirus response and were widely believed to have talked about strategies for a party leadership race and a general election in the coming months amid the recent resurgence of the coronavirus.

“As the coronavirus continues to spread, it is extremely important to secure hospital beds. We talked about the government and the party working together in efforts to secure beds,” Suga told reporters after the meeting.

The meeting came a day after Nikai told a news conference that he supports the re-election of Suga as LDP president despite low public support for his government, seen as reflecting dissatisfaction with its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama also voiced support for Suga.

Suga has said he will run in the LDP’s leadership race for another term. Being re-elected the ruling party chief would ensure he remains prime minister.

Unlike last year’s LDP presidential election that was held among party lawmakers and prefectural associations only following the abrupt resignation of Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, due to health reasons, the next election will be held with LDP members and allies including nonpoliticians also casting ballots.

Kishida, a former LDP policy chief, was also one of the candidates in that election.

A general election is also looming as the term of House of Representatives members will run out on Oct. 21. The prime minister has the power to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

So far, Sanae Takaichi, known as a conservative member of the LDP who is close to Abe, and LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura have expressed willingness to run in the party presidential election.

There is also the possibility of the prime minister not dissolving the lower chamber until the expiration of the lower house members’ term, a move that would prompt a general election within 40 days, meaning the election would be held on Nov. 28 at the latest.

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