Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is set to run in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership race, sources close to him said Wednesday, pitting him against Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who doubles as party chief.
Suga is considering dissolving the House of Representatives in early October for a snap election after winning the race, other sources said, as the terms of lower house members will expire later that month.
Suga told Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 LDP leader, in talks the same day that he has nothing against following the schedule for the party's presidential election once it is set, a source familiar with their meeting said.
Suga's term as LDP president is set to expire on Sept. 30 and the party is slated to decide on the schedule for its leadership race on Thursday. The party plans to hold the election on Sept. 29, with campaigning starting on Sept. 17, party sources have said.
In the 30-minute meeting, Suga and Nikai, LDP secretary general, also discussed the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, with the public increasingly skeptical about the effectiveness of its policy amid a resurgence of infections and the prolonged state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas.
"As the coronavirus continues to spread, it is extremely important to secure hospital beds. We talked about the government and the party working together on efforts to secure beds," Suga told reporters after the meeting.
The meeting came a day after Nikai told a press conference that he supports the re-election of Suga as LDP president.
On Tuesday, LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama also voiced support for Suga.
Suga has said he will run in the LDP's leadership race for another term. Being re-elected as ruling party chief would likely ensure he remains prime minister.
Unlike last year's LDP presidential election that was held only among party lawmakers and prefectural associations following the abrupt resignation of Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe due to health reasons, the next election will be held with LDP members and allies including nonpoliticians also casting ballots.
Kishida, a former LDP policy chief, was also one of the candidates in that election.
Kishida, who heads a faction of the party, is planning to announce his candidacy on Thursday, the sources said.
So far, Sanae Takaichi, known as a conservative member of the LDP who is close to Abe, and LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura have expressed willingness to run in the presidential election.
As the term of the House of Representatives will run out on Oct. 21, speculation is mounting over when Suga will dissolve the lower house for an election.
Three scenarios of dissolution are being floated so far -- mid-September before the LDP presidential election, late September after Suga is re-elected in the party race unchallenged and early October after the leadership race.
There is also the possibility of the prime minister not dissolving the lower chamber until the expiration of the lower house members' term that will prompt a general election within 40 days, meaning the election will be held on Nov. 28 at the latest.