Hawkish Takaichi joins race to be Japan's next PM

Sanae Takaichi, one of Japan’s few prominent female politicians, announced Wednesday she will run for head of the ruling party as it seeks new leadership before a general election.

The race to lead the Liberal Democratic Party was thrown wide open after its current head, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, said he would not run.

Takaichi — a hawkish nationalist who has held several ministerial positions — is only the second politician to declare she will stand in the September 29 party vote, along with former foreign minister Fumio Kishida.

Whoever wins will become prime minister and take the LDP into a general election that must be called in October and held no later than November.

“With the responsibility to protect Japan and the determination to open the way for the future, I, Sanae Takaichi, announce my candidacy,” she told reporters.

The 60-year-old vowed improvements in a wide range of sectors, from education to defence and disaster management.

She pledged to bolster the economy with a “Sanaenomics” plan — a nod to former prime minister Shinzo Abe, whose signature “Abenomics” involved vast government spending and monetary easing.

And she raised the possibility of allowing stricter anti-virus measures in Japan, which has so far avoided blanket stay-at-home orders.

“As we prepare for unforeseen risks, we may have to start reviewing legal frameworks that would enable us to implement so-called lockdowns,” she said.

A divisive figure even within the party, Takaichi strongly opposes apologies for Japan’s wartime past and has fought against allowing married couples to have different surnames.

She is a regular visitor to Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honours war dead including war criminals, and is a flashpoint in relations with South Korea and China.

Takaichi hails from western Japan’s Nara and most recently served as minister for communications and internal affairs, vowing to tackle cyberbullying after the death of a reality star.

During a previous stint as minister, she sparked concerns over press freedom when she warned the government had the right to shut down broadcasters seen as politically biased.

Takaichi has long been close to Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who stepped down last year over health issues and is said to be backing Takaichi’s run.

Japan has never had a female prime minister.

Takaichi is known as a heavy metal fan and is said to have played the drums as a teenager.

As a university student, she reportedly sported pink hair and enjoyed riding a motorbike. But she gave up the hobby after becoming a lawmaker, apparently worried that getting into an accident could affect her work.

Vaccine tsar Taro Kono has also reportedly expressed an intention to run in the LDP leadership race.

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