TOKYO -- Two leading contenders to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have emerged from Japan's upper house election with changed momentum after a striking contrast in the performance of their favored candidates.
A number of newcomers endorsed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, 70, Abe's right-hand man, defied forecasters' predictions by winning their respective parliamentary races on Sunday.
But four incumbents supported by former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, 61, the policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, lost their seats.
The 64-year-old Abe faces no immediate challenge to his position as leader of the LDP, but he also has no clear successor.
As he heads toward becoming Japan's longest-serving prime minister, some speculate Abe will seek an unprecedented fourth term as LDP president when his current tenure ends in September 2021. Abe told a news conference on Monday he had "no thought" about such a move.
Attention now turns to Abe's picks for his revamped cabinet, which will be announced in September.
Asked about his possible choices, the prime minister named Suga among others who deserve praise for their efforts. Abe did not mention Kishida, though he had praised him on the campaign trail as the man for Japan's new Reiwa era.
Suga himself gained a national spotlight when he announced the new era name -- the first in three decades -- in April.
Contenders from both the Suga and Kishida camps campaigned in Hiroshima, where a Kishida-backed incumbent lost while a female newcomer thought to be a long shot won with support from the popular Suga. The defeat dealt a blow to Kishida in his own constituency.
Elsewhere, three more Kishida candidates lost by narrow margins in single-seat districts. The LDP faction led by Kishida would have topped 50 members had all his endorsed candidates won.
Meanwhile, Suga helped elect another freshman in a crowded race. Not all of Suga's favored candidates won, however, and his lead in the succession race is far from clear.
The election outcome also has consequences for Abe's pursuit of constitutional change. Opinion polls show support for constitutional change waning.
Though the ruling coalition defended its upper house majority in Sunday's election, the LDP and other parties favoring a constitutional amendment fell four seats shy of the two-thirds majority needed to initiate the process. Abe expressed to reporters his willingness to work with the opposition parties toward reaching the threshold in the upper house.
"I want to transcend the boundaries between ruling and opposition parties to create a proposal that will receive two-thirds approval," Abe said. "I will not insist on an LDP proposal but instead be flexible in the debate."
The LDP is working on a proposed amendment that would name Japan's Self-Defense Forces in Article 9 of the country's war-renouncing constitution. Abe indicated that he would not rule out changing this proposal in order to persuade opposition legislators to join the pro-amendment crowd.