Yoshihide Suga was elected the new leader of Japan's ruling party on Monday, making him all but certain to replace Shinzo Abe as the country's next prime minister.
Mr Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, easily won the ballot, taking 377 of a total of 534 valid votes from Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians and regional representatives.
His rivals, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and party policy chief Fumio Kishida, trailed far behind.
Given the LDP's legislative majority, Mr Suga is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote on Wednesday and become prime minister, taking over from
Mr Abe, who is resigning for health reasons.
A powerful government adviser and spokesman, Mr Suga, 71, is seen as offering stability and a continuation of Mr Abe's policies.
He has specifically said his candidacy was motivated by a desire to continue the outgoing prime minister's programmes.
Mr Ishiba, who is popular with the public but less so within his own party, won just 68 votes, with Mr Kishida, who was once considered the favoured successor, taking 89.
Mr Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister before being forced to resign after a recurrence of ulcerative colitis. He declined to publicly endorse any candidate.
The son of a strawberry farmer, Mr Suga was raised in Japan's northern Akita region, and the issues of rural areas suffering depopulation are said to be among his top concerns.
But not much is known about his personal ideology, and he is generally viewed as an adherent of neither the LDP's most hawkish nor its more reformist wings.
As prime minister, he will face a series of tough challenges, including containing the coronavirus and righting the world's third-biggest economy, which was in recession even before the pandemic.
Mr Suga says that he is a reformist and that he has worked to achieve policies by breaking territorial barriers of bureaucracy. He has credited himself for those efforts in achieving a booming foreign tourism industry in Japan, lowering cellphone bills and bolstering agricultural exports.
Compared to his political skills at home, Mr Suga has hardly traveled overseas, and his diplomatic skills are unknown, though he is largely expected to pursue Mr Abe’s priorities.
In addition to the coronavirus and the economic fallout, Mr Suga stands to inherit several other challenges, including China, which continues its assertive actions in the East China Sea. He also will have to decide what to do with the Tokyo Olympics, which were pushed back to next summer due to the coronavirus. And he will have to establish a good relationship with whoever wins the US presidential race.
Shinzo Abe bows after stepping down as Japan's Prime Minister in Tokyo. Reuters
Japan's longest-serving prime minister said Friday he intends to step down because of health problems. AP Photo
It's not the first time Shinzo Abe has left office. He stepped down as Japanese Prime Minister on September 12, 2007 after just a year. EPA
He reassumed office on December 26, 2012. This file photo taken on December 29, 2012 shows Mr Abe greeting workers at the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) emergency operation centre inside the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Ota. AFP
This file photo taken on September 17, 2014 shows Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe driving a combine harvester to crop rice plants in the town of Hirono in Fukushima prefecture. AFP
Pope Francis and Shinzo Abe in 2019. AFP
Then-South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, right, shaking hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) during their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul in 2006. AFP
With Taro Aso, as deputy PM and finance minister, second left, Mr Abe has instilled "Abenomics" to nourish the country's slowing rate growth with an ageing population. EPA
This file photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Shinzo Abe (L) greeting his supporters during an election campaign appearance in Saitama. AFP
This file photo taken on September 20, 2018 shows Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attending a press conference after winning the ruling liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership election at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo. AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin chats with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a visit to the Kodokan judo hall in Tokyo in 2016. AFP
This file photo taken on August 15, 2005 shows Shinzo Abe (C), then-deputy secretary general for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), following a Shinto priest after offering prayers for the country's war dead at Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine. AFP
This file photo taken on September 17, 2002 shows Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, accompanied by then-Vice Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe as he leaves Tokyo International Airport for Pyongyang to meet with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. AFP
This file photo taken on August 15, 2007 shows Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) bowing at the alter as Emperor Akihito (L) and Empress Michiko (C) look on during a memorial ceremony for the national war dead to commemorate the end of World War II. AFP
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiles in 2013. EPA
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second right, wearing protective suit and mask, is briefed about tanks containing radioactive water by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant chief Akira Ono after the nuclear disaster. REUTERS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at a debate with party leaders at Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan, 03 July 2013. EPA
This file photo taken on March 6, 2020 shows Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gesturing as he attends a upper house plenary session at parliament in Tokyo. AFP
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe poses with child actors, members of Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z at a cherry blossom viewing party at Shinjuku Gyoen park in Tokyo, Japan. REUTERS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pours sake for US President Barack Obama as they have dinner at the Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Reuters
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with his supporters after an election campaign rally in Fukushima in 2017. Reuters
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe eats a local grilled fish at the Soma Haragama fishing port in Soma, Fukushima prefecture, December 2, 2014. Reuters
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with US President Donald Trump during their meeting in the Oval Office on February 10, 2017. Reuters
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and President George W Bush, right, attend a joint news conference at Camp David in 2006. AP Photo
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaches out to shake hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting in Beijing in 2014. AP Photo
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears as the Nintendo game character Super Mario during the closing ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AP Photo
Updated: September 14, 2020 01:49 PM