TOKYO, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) anointed former foreign minister Fumio Kishida as its new leader on Wednesday, a victory for the party's establishment that virtually ensures the soft-spoken veteran will become prime minister within days.
Although he enjoys only moderate popular support and is saddled with an image of being bland, Kishida had critical backing from some party heavyweights, allowing him to stop the momentum of rising star Taro Kono, the popular minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine roll-out.
It was not clear if Kishida's image could spell problems for the LDP in a general election due by Nov. 28. He focused on populist issues - such as the need to forge a new kind of capitalism and ease divisions of wealth - in his first news conference.
"We can't achieve strong growth if wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small group of people," he said, calling for the need to create a "virtuous cycle" of growth and wealth distribution.
"We will strive to achieve economic growth and distribution," of wealth, he said.
The Hiroshima lawmaker succeeds unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who did not seek re-election as party leader after just one year in office. Kishida is almost certain to become premier at a parliamentary session on Monday because of the LDP's majority in the lower house.
He is expected to form a new cabinet and reshuffle the LDP executive in early October.
Media, quoting LDP executives, reported that the lower chamber will likely be dissolved in mid-October with an election on either Nov. 7 or Nov. 14.
"A win for the establishment. Kishida stands for stability, for not rocking the boat and most importantly, doing what elite technocrats tell him to do," Jesper Koll, expert director at Monex Group.
Rival Kono, a fluent English speaker with a large following on Twitter and a reputation for being outspoken and headstrong, has been seen as something of a maverick, and was therefore not regarded as the top choice of some of the party's powerbrokers.
Kono set himself apart from the mainstream of the LDP establishment on social issues with his support of legislation that would recognise gay marriage, something Kishida has not supported.
Two female contenders, Sanae Takaichi, 60, and Seiko Noda, 61, dropped out of the leadership race after the first round.
Kishida's is unlikely to usher in major policy shifts as Japan seeks to cope with an assertive China and revive an economy hit by the pandemic. read more
He shares a broad consensus on the need to boost Japan's defences and strengthen security ties with the United States and other partners including the QUAD grouping of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, while preserving vital economic ties with China.
Specifically, he wants to beef up Japan's coast guard and backs passing a resolution condemning China's treatment of members of the Uyghur minority. He wants to appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor their human rights situation.
Kishida was "the best possible option for Beijing" CGTN, the English channel of China's state television CGTV said in a commentary after the result.
His victor offers an opportunity for ties between the two countries to improve, it said.