Official campaigning began Friday for Japan's new head of the Liberal Democratic Party. This role typically signals the next leader.
There are four candidates for the September 29 vote to replace Yoshihide Sug, the outgoing Prime Minister. He will be leaving after a year of service. He succeeded Shinzo Abe.
Two women are running in the race, which is unusual for Japan. Yuriko Koike (currently serving as Tokyo governor) was the only female competitor.
Each of the four candidates submitted their formal candidacy earlier Friday at party headquarters, ahead of a series joint public debate sessions and other campaigning over the next twelve days.
Their policies are focused on the pandemic, its economic fallout and the increasing aggressive role China plays in regional affairs.
Suga's handling of the pandemic and insistence that the Olympics be hosted despite it has caused a drop in support ratings. The party hopes that a new face will help them win in the general elections, which must be held by November.
Abe's long reign was marked by unusual political stability, but also what critics called an autocratic and ultranationalist approach.
Taro Kono is currently the minister responsible for vaccinations and was considered a front-runner in Friday's election. He stated that he wanted a compassionate society as he began his campaigning. Kono, who is considered a maverick within Japan's conservative political culture says that he wants to reform his party.
Fumio Kishida was once a Foreign Minister and is now a contender for Kono. He said that he would listen to the people and "restore unity to this country split by the coronavirus panademic." As he seeks the support of conservatives such as Abe, he has become a security and diplomatichawk.
Sanae Takaichi is seeking to become the nation's first woman prime minister. She shares Abe’s right-wing, revisionist political views. The former interior affairs minister called for a stronger military and said that she wants ample government spending to build a strong, beautiful Japan.
Seiko Noda, a former minister of gender equality and postal services and one of the hopefuls to become Japan's first female leader, said that "It's more than just strength we require." Noda, a late entrant to the party, vows to create a diverse and inclusive society in Japan that is lacking.