Japan’s outspoken vaccinations minister, Taro Kono, is running to become head of the governing party and pledges to be reform-minded and get things done.
Whoever holds that post is usually chosen to be prime minister.
Mr Kono, 58, a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington DC, who is fluent in English, has many fans among younger people, with whom he communicates via social media. Such things are still rare in Japanese politics.
“I will embrace your views and worries, share information with you, convey a solid message and work with you to overcome this crisis that we face,” he said at a packed news conference in Tokyo, referring to the pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced last week that he will not seek another term as head of the governing Liberal Democratic Party in a vote on September 29.
The winner is virtually certain to be elected prime minister by parliament because the party and its coalition partner hold a majority of seats.
Two other lawmakers have said they will stand: centrist former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, who shares former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s right-wing ideology and revisionist views on wartime history. She is seeking to become Japan’s first female leader.
Mr Kono emphasised his achievements as vaccine minister, portraying himself as someone who gets things done, by tearing down bureaucratic barriers if necessary.
He was picked by Mr Suga to lead the country’s vaccination campaign in January before its rollout in mid-February, months behind other countries.
Within weeks, Mr Kono was tasked with the ambitious goal of fully vaccinating all of the nation’s elderly by the end of July, which he achieved by boosting the administration of doses to 1 million per day.
He is considered a liberal on social issues such as gender equality and diversity but hawkish on national security.
Mr Suga, who became prime minister a year ago, has faced nosediving popularity over his government’s handling of the coronavirus and for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite widespread opposition due to health concerns.
Mr Kono was the most popular choice for prime minister in at least three recent public opinion polls. However, public popularity does not directly affect the selection of prime minister, who is elected by parliament from candidates presented by various parties.