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Japan election

New contender in Japan ruling party race seeks to be first female PM

Sanae Takaichi backed by Shinzo Abe and other conservatives to lead LDP

Sanae Takaichi, a former communications minister, would become only the second woman to run for the leadership of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party. 

TOKYO -- A new contender poised to join the race to succeed Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga could become the country's first female prime minister, as former communications minister Sanae Takaichi intends to declare her candidacy for the top post in the ruling party, Nikkei has learned.

Takaichi, one of the most prominent female cabinet members in recent years, is an ally of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She has Abe's support to seek the leadership of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Sept. 29 vote. Takaichi is expected to announce her vision for government as early as this week.

She would join a race upended by Suga's decision last week not to run after months of sagging cabinet approval ratings.

Taro Kono, Suga's cabinet point man for vaccine distribution and administrative reform, is also set to announce his candidacy as soon as this week. Leading in a Nikkei opinion poll of likely LDP leadership candidates with 16% support, Kono will face declared candidate Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister.

A Kyodo poll also put Kono ahead, followed by former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba -- who has not revealed an intention to run -- and Kishida.

Japan's ruling party will choose a new face to lead it into a general election looming after the LDP race. With an LDP majority behind her, Takaichi as the party's leader would be only a confirmation vote away from becoming Japan's first female prime minister. She would be only the second woman to run for the LDP leadership, after current Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike in 2008.

Takaichi, elected eight times to Japan's lower house of parliament, does not belong to any of the LDP's factions. She has support from conservative members of the Hosoda faction, the largest of these groups, of which Abe was originally a member, as well as elsewhere in the party.

Takaichi has hinted at a run since August, and she is believed to have secured the 20 backers needed to become a candidate under the party's rules.

The alumna of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management served as a congressional fellow in the office of Democratic U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, according to Takaichi's website. She has held the post of LDP policy chief, one of the party's top three offices.

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