Japan PM Suga's party ally to step down ahead of election: Media

Observers say younger parliamentarians have voiced their unease with the amount of power wielded by Mr Toshihiro Nikai. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to replace an unpopular long-term ally as he seeks to shore up support ahead of a party leadership election he must win before the general election planned for October, media said on Tuesday (Aug 31).

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai told Suga he would step down at meeting on Monday, the reports said.

"I've been in the Secretary General post for more than five years, I want you to do the reshuffle without hesitation," Nikai told Suga, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

Observers say younger parliamentarians have voiced their unease with the amount of power wielded by Nikai, 82, who has held the key LDP post, with control over campaign funds, since August 2016 - the longest in the party's history.

Suga's rival for the party leader, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, sparked ire from party executives last week after he proposed limits on executive posts and promised to promote young and middle-level lawmakers over heavyweights.

The proposal was seen as Kishida's bid to attract grassroots LDP members who, unlike last year, will vote along with members of parliament and who, fearful of losing their seats, may be wary of following their elders' orders.

The reshuffle of the party executive, including Nikai, was set to take place next week, the Kyodo news agency reported.

The winner of the contest is all but assured of being the premier due to the LDP's majority in the lower house and will guide the party through a general election, with the government considering a plan to hold the poll on Oct 17.

Whoever leads the party in the election will face an uphill battle.

Suga's support ratings are at record lows as he failed to capitalise on delivering the Olympics for the country, being hit hard by a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The government has declared a fourth state of emergency in most of Japan amid a sluggish vaccination rollout.

The LDP and its allies is not expected to lose their coalition majority in the powerful lower house, but forecasts suggest that Suga's party could lose its outright majority, an outcome that would weaken whoever is leading the LDP.

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