Photo/Illutration LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai reacts to a reporter's question during a news conference at the LDP Headquarters in Tokyo on April 26. Motoo Hayashi, the LDP deputy secretary-general, is standing behind him. (The Asahi Shimbun)

An influential member of Japan’s ruling party said on Tuesday he still backed the re-appointment of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as party leader, a post that ensures he would remain prime minister.

Suga has said he would run in the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership race for another term as head of the party. A former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is likely to challenge him in the vote, which is expected next month, the Sankei newspaper reported.

“I haven’t changed my stance of supporting the prime minister’s re-appointment,” Toshihiro Nikai, a party veteran who leads a major faction in it, told a news conference, referring to the top party post.

Nikai, who said he planned to meet Suga on Wednesday to discuss “the future of the party and the country,” is considered one of the party’s most powerful lawmakers.

He played a major role in Suga’s victory in the last LDP leadership race last year, which led to him succeeding Shinzo Abe as prime minister in September.

Suga’s administration has seen support plunge over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to calls within the party for it to pick a new face as leader ahead of a general election that must be held by October.