Photo/Illutration From left: Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, and Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the LDP (The Asahi Shimbun)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is set to run for president of the Liberal Democratic Party to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and may have already gained an early advantage over his rivals.

Calls are growing for Suga’s bid among an LDP faction led by party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, as well as other LDP lawmakers who, like Suga, do not belong to any faction.

If elected, Suga, 71, who shored up the Abe administration as chief Cabinet secretary, would likely follow the policy line laid out by Abe.

But at his regular news conference on Aug. 31, he declined to comment on his possible candidacy.

“I will refrain from commenting on it because this is a venue to explain the position of the government,” Suga, the top government spokesman, said.

Two other potential candidates are Fumio Kishida, 63, chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, and former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, 63.

Suga is expected to announce his candidacy after the LDP’s General Council meeting on Sept. 1, in which the party will decide when and how the LDP president will be selected. The presidential election will likely be held in mid-September.

Suga conveyed his intention to enter the fray when he met with Nikai on Aug. 29, the day after Abe announced his resignation for health reasons at a news conference. Nikai offered his support to Suga’s bid, according to sources.

Nikai’s faction consists of 47 members.

Takeo Kawamura, a former chief Cabinet secretary and senior member of the faction, acknowledged on Aug. 30 that the “climate is in the making” to endorse Suga within the faction.

LDP lawmakers who do not belong to any faction and are close to Suga are expected to ask him to enter the presidential race on Aug. 31.

Kishida, long considered a potential successor of Abe, scrambled to gain support for his candidacy from Abe and two influential LDP factions.

Kishida renewed his call for Abe’s support when the two met on Aug. 31. The prime minister replied that the Hosoda faction, to which he belonged, has yet to pick a particular candidate for endorsement, Kishida said after their meeting.

The previous day, Kishida met Hiroyuki Hosoda, who heads the Hosoda faction with 98 members, the largest in the LDP.

Kishida also met with Finance Minister Taro Aso, who is also deputy prime minister and heads the 54-member Aso faction.

“I will run for the president of the party,” Kishida told reporters after his talks with Hosoda and Aso. “I will announce my official candidacy after the date and how the president will be selected are set.”

Kishida heads his own faction with 47 members.

Ishiba, leader of his own faction with 19 members, is popular among LDP members outside of the Diet.

However, the longtime critic of the Abe administration could be placed at a disadvantage under plans to allow only LDP lawmakers and representatives of prefectural chapters to cast ballots in the election.

At a gathering of the Shiga prefectural chapter of the LDP in Otsu on Aug. 30, Ishiba blasted the LDP leadership, “The party should hold the presidential election in which party members nationwide can vote.”

To run for president, a candidate must secure recommendations from 20 lawmakers.

Normally, LDP legislators in the Diet and party members across the nation vote in the presidential election, giving both sides 394 votes each.

But LDP heavyweights plan to limit the representation of party members, citing the urgency of electing a leader to avoid a political vacuum.

Under this scenario, 394 LDP lawmakers can vote, alongside 141 votes from party representatives, meaning that votes by non-legislators will weigh less.

The proposed process has already drawn fire from not only local party members but also LDP Diet members.

“Considering that the LDP has been under intensive public scrutiny, it is essential to hold an election that will be open to the public to dispel political distrust,” said a group of LDP lawmakers calling for the normal way of selecting the party president.