TOKYO -- Yoshihide Suga was elected president of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Monday, making him all but certain to become prime minister of the world's third-largest economy later this week.
As widely expected, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's chief cabinet secretary defeated former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Suga took 377 of 534 votes, with Kishida way back in second on 89. Ishiba came last with 68 votes.
"We cannot have any void in policy," Suga said after the vote. "It is my mission to carry forward what has been done under Prime Minister Abe."
"I want to create a government that people can trust. I will push ahead with deregulation and put an end to ministry sectionalism, endemic vested interests and the practice of blindly following past precedents," Suga added. "I will create a working cabinet."
Abe's right-hand man for nearly eight years won the support of the LDP's two largest factions -- Abe's 98-member Hosoda faction and the group led by Finance Minister Taro Aso. The 47-strong group led by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai was the first to declare for Suga.
Suga is a rare party leader who does not belong to any faction. Kishida, Abe's protege, was seen as a weak challenger to Ishiba, who is popular with the public.
Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister, announced his resignation on August 28 on health grounds. The LDP excluded rank and file party members from the vote, citing the urgent need to relieve the ailing Abe.
Suga has said he would create a central agency to handle Japan's digitalization, and improve competition in the telecommunications industry to lower mobile phone rates -- a crusade that began when he was minister of internal affairs and communications.
The 71-year-old is widely expected to continue with the economic policies of the Abe administration.
"I want to continue Abenomics and enhance it," he has said. Suga has also expressed support for keeping Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda's ultra-easy monetary policy.
Suga will almost certainly be elected on Wednesday in votes in both houses of parliament, where the ruling coalition holds majorities. He can stay in office until September 2021, when the party will hold another leadership election.
It is speculated that Suga may call a snap election this autumn, where he will come up against the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan -- a party formed last week in a merger of two opposition groups.
Suga, seen as inexperienced in international relations, will need to steer Japan through the coronavirus pandemic, rising tensions with China, and the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November.