Photo/Illutration The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election management commission meets Aug. 26 to approve the date of the election. (Koichi Ueda)

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party announced it will hold its leadership poll on Sept. 29 and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, despite grim public approval ratings, is counting on a repeat of his strategy last year to win re-election.

Like last time, Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister and party policy chief, has announced he will make a run for the LDP’s top post. A number of other lawmakers are also expected to run.

The LDP’s General Council on Aug. 26 formally approved the calendar for the party presidential election, for which campaigning will formally kick off Sept. 17.

But even prior to that decision being made, Suga huddled with Toshihiro Nikai, the hugely influential LDP secretary-general, on Aug. 25 and again won a pledge for his support.

That was the strategy Suga resorted to in September 2020 after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped down for health reasons. Gaining Nikai and his faction’s support led four other major party factions to fall in line, all but ensuring victory for Suga even before the official start of the campaign.

Longtime Finance Minister Taro Aso, who heads an LDP faction, has also thrown his backing behind Suga, 72, despite growing concerns among younger lawmakers about plunging support ratings for the Suga Cabinet, which they view as a sign that fresh blood is needed for the top leadership position.

One indication of Suga’s unpopularity over his government’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic was demonstrated in the recent Yokohama mayoral election in which the candidate backed by the prime minister lost to the one backed by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

This was doubly embarrassing for Suga because his home constituency is in the port city outside Tokyo and he would normally be expected to have wielded greater influence in that electoral contest.

While Suga clearly needs the support of the Nikai faction if he is to have any chance of being re-elected, Nikai is also looking out for himself, as he dearly wants to retain the powerful post of secretary-general.

This will best be accomplished by pulling out all the stops to ensure Suga prevails next month.

But younger lawmakers are frustrated, not only by Suga, but also Nikai. Some have said the LDP could lose 70 seats in the Lower House election that must be held by this autumn if the two men continue to occupy the top party posts.

Criticism about the party leadership also stems from a national survey about the LDP’s chances in the upcoming Lower House election.

According to several party sources, the study found that the LDP would lose at least 40 seats, prompting one young lawmaker to ask why, given the survey’s negative findings, party leaders are intent on contesting the election with the same executives.

(Natsuki Okamura contributed to this article.)