TOKYO, Sept 10 – Japan’s popular minister of administrative affairs, Taro Kono, on Friday formally announced his candidacy to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and become the next prime minister.
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Kono, also charged with Japan’s vaccine roll-out, is the third candidate to throw his hat into the ring for leadership of the LDP after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would step down.
Here are five facts about the 58-year-old Kono.
Like many prominent Japanese politicians, Kono comes from a family steeped in politics. His father, Yohei Kono, rose to chief cabinet secretary and was once head of the LDP – but was never prime minister.
The elder Kono, now retired, is best known as the author of a landmark 1993 apology to “comfort women”, a euphemism for women from Korea and other places forced to work in wartime military brothels.
Yohei Kono is one of only two LDP presidents who failed to be premier during brief spells when the party was out of power.
The younger Kono previously served as defence minister and foreign minister. As a university student in the United States, he volunteered for California Senator Alan Cranston’s failed 1984 bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee. Cranston was a vocal opponent of nuclear weapons and Kono has been known as a critic of nuclear energy.
Kono later interned for Alabama’s Richard Shelby, then a Democratic congressman. Shelby is now a Republican senator.
KNOWN AS A MAVERICK
Despite his pedigree, Kono has a reputation for being outspoken and headstrong, marking him as a bit of a maverick in a political world than depends to an extent on consensus.
As defence minister in 2020 he unexpectedly cancelled the deployment of a U.S.-made missile defence system without consulting others beforehand, prompting one governor to say the decision “came out of the blue”.
It remains to be seen whether Kono will be able to tame the faction-ridden LDP.
Kono himself is a member of the faction led by Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Key to Kono’s popularity is his ability to engage directly with voters through social media, a rarity in a country where leading politicians often appear aloof and rarely deviate from their scripts.
By contrast Kono regularly uses Twitter to publish videos on the vaccine roll-out, address media reports and respond directly to followers – some 2.4 million on his Japanese account and 49,000 on his English one.
He reposts memes, or photos of his lunch, often displaying a dry sense of humour in his posts.
A graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in the United States, Kono is totally fluent in English and regularly gives interviews in English, a relatively rare attribute among Japanese politicians.
In an interview with Reuters in January, he lamented the assault on the U.S. Capitol and urged Washington to resume its global role as a “champion of democratic values” and fondly recalled his time in the United States.
“We need the United States to continue to take the leadership of democratic countries… (to) be the champion of democratic values,” he said.
“We will need the United States in – maybe not as a global policeman, but still the leader of democratic values.”
In 2002 he donated part of his liver to save the life of his father, who was suffering from cirrhosis.
While he remains closely associated with his father, at least among older Japanese, he has differentiated himself politically.
Most notably, he toed the line on key policies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Those include a tough approach toward South Korea in a feud over wartime history.
When asked about the issue on Friday, he simply said he would follow the LDP’s stance on history.Compiled by David Dolan, Editing by Nick Zieminski
SEPTEMBER 10, 2021
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