Vaccination minister Taro Kono is set to seek the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party and thus the post of prime minister, sources close to him said Friday, after incumbent Yoshihide Suga expressed his intention to step down amid criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kono, 58, who has previously assumed foreign and defense ministerial posts and who has been high on the list of possible future prime ministers in media opinion polls, will announce next week that he will run in the leadership race of the Liberal Democratic Party later this month, the sources said.

He is expected to face off against at least two other candidates — former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi — in the race that will install the party's new face ahead of a general election in October or November.