Japan vaccine minister seeks to be next prime minister

Tokyo, Sep 10 (AP): Japan’s outspoken vaccinations minister, Taro Kono, announced Friday that he is running to become head of the governing party, who usually is chosen prime minister, and pledged to be reform-minded and gets things done.
Kono, 58, a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who is fluent in English, has many fans among younger people, with whom he communicates via social media. Such things are still a rarity 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, Kono said at a packed news conference in Tokyo, referring to the pandemic. Kono’s declaration comes a week after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s sudden announcement that he will not seek another term as head of the governing Liberal Democratic Party in a September 29 vote. 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 already declared their candidacies: 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.
Kono emphasised his achievements as vaccine minister, portraying himself as someone who gets things done, by tearing down bureaucratic barriers if necessary.
Kono, who is also regulatory reform minister, was picked by Suga to lead the country’s vaccination campaign in January before its rollout in mid-February, months behind other countries.
Within weeks, 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 another goal set by Suga.
Japan is now on par with the United States in terms of percentage of people who have received at least one shot, and will be in the top class among the Group of Seven industrialised nations by the end of September or early October, he said.
Kono, considered a liberal on social issues such as gender equality and diversity but hawkish on national security, is seen as standing somewhere in the middle between Takaichi and Kishida, though he has shifted somewhat to the conservative side, apparently to broaden his support among conservatives.

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