Rival candidates battle on social media ahead of Japan's election

(From left) Ms Seiko Noda, Ms Sanae Takaichi, Mr Fumio Kishida and Mr Taro Kono attend a debate organised by the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo, on Sept 20, 2021.
(From left) Ms Seiko Noda, Ms Sanae Takaichi, Mr Fumio Kishida and Mr Taro Kono attend a debate organised by the Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo, on Sept 20, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - The four candidates seeking to replace outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga are battling on social media and in a series of online debates as they look to firm up support before a party leadership election in five days.

Candidates Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi, Taro Kono and Seiko Noda are reaching out to the rank-and-file members of the Liberal Democratic Party on Twitter and YouTube.

The race is still fairly wide open, as many of the party's powerful factions haven't lined up behind one contender in the Sept 29 leadership election.

Kono has the most followers on Twitter - about 2.4 million on his Japanese-language account - while Takaichi attracted attention by uploading a video of her discussions with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen this week.

The LDP vote is evenly divided between the party's lawmakers and rank-and-file members. The winner is virtually assured of becoming prime minister due to the LDP's dominance in parliament, which is set to hold a special session on Oct 4 to elect the new premier.

Suga is in the United States for a White House meeting among the leaders of the Quad nations, which also includes the US, Australia and India. He told Bloomberg in an interview earlier this week that China's rising military might could threaten Japan's economy.

The LDP will hold an election among its lawmakers and rank-and-file members - with the two groups each having 382 votes. If a candidate does not win a majority of the 764 votes, there will be a run-off between the top two vote-getters.

Candidates

- Fumio Kishida, former foreign minister and leader of a faction

- Sanae Takaichi, former internal affairs minister trying to become the first female premier

- Taro Kono, vaccine czar who has served as foreign and defence minister

- Seiko Noda, another former internal affairs minister also trying to become the first female premier

Kono and Kishida are seen as the top two candidates followed by Takaichi and Noda.

Although the public doesn't get a say in the party's election, voters will make their voices heard in a national election that must be held by the end of November.

A poll this week from the Mainichi newspaper said more than 30 per cent of the LDP's parliamentary lawmakers - who have 382 votes in total - appear to support Kishida.

Kono is in the mid-20 per cent range. Takaichi is at about 20 per cent and Noda is at less than 10 per cent.

Kono is the leading candidate in public polling and expected to pull in the most support from the LDP's rank and file, which also has 382 votes.

Factions

- Kishida has his own 46-member faction and can count on it voting as a bloc for him.

- The biggest faction, which includes former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is allowing its nearly 100 members to vote for the candidate of their choice, while Abe has thrown his support behind Takaichi.

- Kono is a member of the Aso faction, which is set to offer major backing.

- The Ishiba faction, with 17 members, and the Ishihara faction with 10, are leaning to Kono.