Factbox-Possible candidates to become Japan's next prime minister

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, his support ratings in tatters ahead of a general election, said last week he would step down https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-ruling-party-execs-meet-pm-suga-struggles-ahead-election-2021-09-03/?taid=61319eef283ded000140adea&utm_campaign=trueAnthem:+Tren, meaning the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will choose a new leader on Sept. 29, who will become prime minister.

Here are details about some people who might be candidates for the top job.

FUMIO KISHIDA, 64

A former foreign minister, Kishida had been considered the likely heir of Shinzo Abe, who resigned last September, but the softly-spoken lawmaker from Hiroshima ranks low in voter surveys. He came in second in a party leadership vote last year.

Kishida hails from one of the LDP's more dovish factions and is seen as lukewarm about revising the pacifist constitution.

Kishida, the first LDP member to announce his candidacy https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-suga-faces-likely-challenge-sept-29-party-poll-2021-08-25, called for reducing income disparities and pledged support to the economically vulnerable, such as workers in non-regular employment and women, in contrast with Suga, who has stressed self-reliance.

Japan should strive for a new form of capitalism to reduce income disparity that has worsened under the coronavirus pandemic, Kishida told a news conference laying out his economic policy on Wednesday.

He repeated an earlier call for an economic stimulus package worth "tens of trillions of yen" to combat the coronavirus, and said that he would leave the national sales tax untouched at 10% for the time being.

He has said he was running to show the LDP "listens to the people and offers broad choices, and to protect our nation's democracy", a comment seen as criticism of Suga's governing style.

SANAE TAKAICHI, 60

An Abe disciple and former internal affairs minister, Takaichi has made clear her desire to become Japan's first female premier, and said she would introduce policies to fend off China's technology threat and help strengthen the economy.

Formally announcing her candidacy on Wednesday, Takaichi defended her visits to Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals, along with war dead.

"I do this as a Japanese citizen to express my respect and thanks," said Takaichi. "It's my freedom of religion to do so."

Takaichi, a member of the party's most conservative wing, condemned China's abuses of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and called for legislation to prevent leaks of advanced technologies out of Japan.

She said Japan should freeze a goal for achieving a primary budget surplus, excluding new bond sales and debt-servicing costs, until inflation hits the central bank's 2% target, so that both fiscal and monetary policies are kept expansionary.

While calling for a swift compilation and enactment of an extra budget to fund economic stimulus, Takaichi said there was no need to lower the sales tax rate from 10%.

TARO KONO, 58

In charge of Japan's rocky vaccination rollout, Kono ranks high on the list of voters want to see succeed Suga.

Educated at Georgetown University and a fluent English speaker, the social-media-savvy Kono has served as foreign and defence minister and holds the portfolio for administrative reform.

Kono has a reputation as a maverick but toed the line on key Abe policies. He has differentiated his conservative stances from those of his father, former chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, who authored a landmark 1993 apology to "comfort women", a euphemism for women forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels.

A member of powerful Finance Minister Taro Aso's faction, Kono has yet to formally declare his candidacy but media reports say he will likely throw his hat in the ring as early as Friday.

Kono has held a series of meetings with ruling party grandees including Abe this week, in a move seen as laying the groundwork for his candidacy.

SHIGERU ISHIBA, 64

A former defence minister, Ishiba regularly ranks high in voter surveys but is less popular with party MPs.

A security maven and rare LDP critic of Abe when the latter was in office, Ishiba has also held portfolios for agriculture and reviving local economies.

He defeated Abe in the first round of a party poll in 2012 thanks to strong grassroots support but lost in the second round when only MPs could vote. He has since lost two more times.

He has deflected questions on whether he would run for the LDP leadership race this time. Following a meeting of Ishiba's faction on Tuesday, a lawmaker said members were divided https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-pm-candidate-kishida-calls-270-bln-plus-stimulus-package-media-2021-09-06 about whether to support Ishiba in a leadership vote or back Kono who is from another faction.

Ishiba has criticised the Bank of Japan's ultra-low interest rates for hurting regional banks and called for higher public work spending to remedy growing inequality.

SEIKO NODA, 60

An Abe critic, Noda, a former internal affairs minister, has also held the portfolio for women's empowerment and is in favour of allowing married couples to keep separate names.

She wanted to challenge Abe for the LDP presidency in 2015 but fell short of the 20 backers needed to run.

Noda told Suga this week that she intended to run, but it is unclear if she can secure the backing of enough lawmakers, domestic media said.

(Writing by Ju-min Park, Linda Sieg, Daniel Leussink, Michael Perry and Kiyoshi Takenaka)

FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan
FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former foreign minister, attends a news conference as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

FILE PHOTO: Japan
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Japan
FILE PHOTO: Japan's vaccination programme chief Taro Kono attends a news conference on the country's preparations to begin vaccinating health workers, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

FILE PHOTO: Japan
FILE PHOTO: Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership candidate and former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba attends a debate for the LDP leadership election in Tokyo, Japan September 12, 2020. Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS

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