Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declared on Wednesday he will run for the leadership of the ruling party, a race he is heavily favored to win, which would likely ensure the veteran politician will become the next prime minister.
Suga, a longtime aide to outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is widely expected to carry on Abe's policies of fiscal and monetary stimulus, said he was entering the race to avoid a political vacuum at a time of crisis.
"I decided to run in the LDP leadership race after some deep thought on what I can do as a politician and a member of Abe's administration," Suga told a briefing.
The party's leader is set to take over as prime minister given the LDP's majority in the lower house of parliament.
Abe announced his decision to resign last week, citing poor health.
Suga's main competitors in the Sept. 14 party vote are a former defense minister, Shigeru Ishiba, and ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida, but Suga's position looks strong.
He has secured the backing of five of the LDP's seven factions, public broadcaster NHK and others reported.
The party decided on Tuesday to hold a slimmed-down election with just members of parliament and three votes from each of the 47 prefectures - an advantage for Suga.
Many party chapters will poll rank-and-file members to decide how to allocate their three votes, but experts say this is unlikely to change the momentum growing for Suga if the members of the five factions back him.
Financial markets also favor Suga, assuming he will continue with the reflationary "Abenomics" strategy aimed at reviving the economy.
But Ishiba is by far the most popular candidate among the public and has been on a media blitz over the past few days, raising questions about the possibility of change after Abe's eight years at the helm.