Former Japanese minister Sanae Takaichi announces run for party leadership to replace PM Suga

Ms Sanae Takaichi became the first female internal affairs minister in the second Abe administration in 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese lawmaker Sanae Takaichi on Wednesday (Sept 8) officially announced she would run in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) leadership race to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who last week announced he would step down.

Ms Takaichi, a conservative who aims to be the country's first female leader, will go up against former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, among others, in the Sept 29 race.

The winner of the vote is all but assured to be Japan's next prime minister.

She has the backing of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, local media said, and would base her challenge on policies to fend off China's technology threat and help strengthen an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

So far only soft-spoken Kishida, 64, has announced his candidacy, but popular Covid-19 vaccination minister Taro Kono, 58, has also signalled his ambition to run.

Ms Takaichi, 60, became the first female internal affairs minister in the second Abe administration in 2014.

But even as local media have said influential Mr Abe has thrown his support behind Ms Takaichi helping her obtain the 20 lawmaker backers needed to run in the leadership election, she has ranked poorly in popularity ratings, which could hamper her chances.

Grassroots LDP members will vote in the leadership election along with the party's members of Parliament, and whoever wins will lead the party to the Lower House election that must be held by Nov 28, making public appeal an important factor in choosing the new leader.

A member of the party's most conservative wing, Ms Takaichi on Wednesday defended her frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japan's war dead. Such visits by Japanese leaders infuriate old wartime foes including China and South Korea.

"I do this as a Japanese citizen to express my respect and thanks," said Ms Takaichi. "It's my freedom of religion to do so."

She distanced herself from statements issued by Japan in the past apologising for its wartime aggression, instead highlighting the one proclaimed by the Abe government. "It said our children's and grandchildren's generations should not have to keep apologising," she said.

She condemned China's alleged abuses of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet and said Japan should protect members of such groups residing in Japan who are facing threats. China has denied such charges.

Ms Takaichi also called for legislation to prevent leaks of advanced technologies out of Japan, and said she would shelve the goal of hitting a primary budget balance until the Bank of Japan's 2 per cent inflation target was met.

"Sanaenomics has three pillars of bold monetary easing, fiscal spending and crisis-control investment,"
Ms Takaichi said. "We'll mobilise all of them to achieve the 2 per cent inflation target."

She has also opposed allowing married couples to keep separate surnames, to the disappointment of promoters of women's rights.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.