• Reuters, Jiji

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Shigeru Ishiba, a heavyweight politician of Japan’s ruling party, formally announced on Wednesday that he would not run for the party’s leadership race, throwing his support instead behind Taro Kono, a top contender in public opinion polls to become the next prime minister.

There had been some speculation the former defense minister would run in the widely-contested election for leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pulled out in early September.

Popular among rank-and-file party members, Ishiba’s move could give a boost to vaccine minister Kono, who has gained support among the general public. The new LDP leader will virtually be assured the premiership given the party’s majority in parliament.

“I will support contender Taro Kono in the upcoming LDP leadership race,” Ishiba said in a news conference convened to officially announce his support.

“I decided to support him because our desire for reform, our political philosophies, our concerns over the current situation of this country and our sense of purpose are aligned,” Ishiba said.

Kono, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi have all announced that they will run for the leadership race.

Seiko Noda, a former internal affairs minister, may also throw her hat in the ring, according to broadcaster TBS Television.

Official campaigning will start on Friday, and votes will be counted on Sep. 29. There will be a run-off vote between the top two candidates if no one wins a majority of the votes cast.

Kono apparently thinks that support from Ishiba will help him gain rank-and-file votes enough to avoid a runoff in which lawmakers’ votes are crucial.

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