By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – When Taro Kono, Japan’s main contender to be prime minister, was a senior in highschool, he requested his father to ship him abroad for college, however was flatly refused.
As a substitute, the elder Kono, a number one politician within the ruling celebration, took his son to a U.S. embassy reception in a bid to show his English was not ok.
However the transfer backfired.
“I went across the room telling folks enthusiastically, in my damaged English, how I needed to check overseas however my father was towards it, so I had an issue,” Kono wrote in a current guide.
Everybody stated no, he ought to wait. However that response, and maybe his son’s audacity, one way or the other satisfied the daddy, and Kono wound up spending 4 years at Georgetown College in Washington, D.C.
Now 58, Japan’s standard vaccines minister is fluent in English and hopes to parlay that early mixture of self-belief, technique and stubbornness into changing into chief of the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Occasion (LDP) and prime minister.
Along with a resume studded with high-profile portfolios akin to overseas affairs and defence, he runs a Twitter (NYSE:) feed in two languages and, in a world of staid politicians, speaks bluntly, in contrast with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
“Kono’s a good communicator, he is speaking,” stated Corey Wallace, a overseas coverage specialist at Kanagawa College.
“He is all the time on the market, giving press conferences on the vaccine rollout and so forth,” Wallace added. “Suga appeared like he solely communicated when he completely needed to.”
Kono recurrently tops opinion polls as voters’ selection for the subsequent prime minister, which is able to assist him with each rank-and-file members within the LDP contest, and younger lawmakers anxious about maintaining their jobs as a basic election looms this yr.
Picture, at which Kono excels, might trump coverage, stated Airo Hino, a professor of political science at Waseda College.
“Lawmakers are undoubtedly going to select who they suppose is best for re-election,” Hino added.
“They’re considering of election posters, and their faces on them with the LDP president. That is very true in city areas, and with the younger.”
SOCIAL MEDIA REACH
Kono’s outreach has flourished on social media, the place he has garnered 2.four million followers on Twitter.
The whimsical posts of early this yr, that includes memes, his lunch, or a masks with a dinosaur cranium, have shifted to selling the vaccine and highlighting on-line coverage conferences.
That Kono had solid a real reference to those that don’t often care about politicians turned clear when debate erupted on-line after he blocked a few of those that disagreed with him on Twitter.
However that incident additionally throws mild on one in every of his greatest weaknesses, say analysts.
“He needs you to love him, and he needs to love you, and he needs to have interaction, however he has just a little little bit of an offended streak and it may be a legal responsibility,” Wallace stated.
In 2019, when overseas minister, Kono berated the South Korean ambassador throughout a gathering in entrance of cameras, telling him he was “extraordinarily impolite”.
These reminiscences stir consternation in South Korea, already nervous in regards to the conservative stance Kono took on key insurance policies when a cupboard minister.
That may be a distinction together with his father, Yohei Kono, the chief cupboard secretary who authored a landmark apology in 1993 to “consolation girls,” a euphemism for these pressured to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.
South Korean media have performed up his hardline stance, and a few commentators concern already-strained ties may not enhance.
However at house there may be hope that Kono, whose maverick nature brings to thoughts the wildly standard Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, might be able to get issues accomplished.
Analysts say many of the blame for Japan’s dealing with of the pandemic has landed on Suga, sinking his cupboard, whereas Kono has constructed a picture of working laborious on the vaccine rollout.
Japan’s emergency measures achieved little till just lately to curb virus infections that swamped its hospitals, however after a sluggish begin vaccination charges have risen to just a little greater than half, pulling near the US and different G7 nations.
“He … overcame all of the hurdles and bureaucratic excuses notably made by the ministry of well being,” stated Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute for Inhabitants Well being at King’s Faculty London, who directed municipal vaccinations in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, the capital.
“I feel he’s the one candidate who can problem the established order.”
However first Kono should win, which implies he must overcome the deep-seated fears of celebration elders that he may very well be troublesome to maintain in test.
“That is to not say Kono is totally towards what the celebration needs to do,” Wallace added. “However he can be his personal prime minister, a method or one other.”
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