The 64-year-old won the ruling party’s leadership vote on Wednesday, beating popular vaccine chief Taro Kono to finally clinch a job he has long targeted.
It was second time lucky for the experienced politician: he lost out in 2020 to Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after just a year as prime minister.
Kishida is widely regarded as a safe pair of hands, despite a low-key presence that has sometimes been characterised as a lack of charisma.
He has pledged to spend big on new pandemic stimulus while vowing to tackle income inequality and move away from the neo-liberal economics that have dominated Japanese politics for the past two decades.
And seeking to set himself apart from the unpopular pandemic response of Suga’s government, he has emphasised the lessons learned from his failure to win the leadership last time around.
“I wasn’t good enough. I think I didn’t have enough conviction,” he admitted when he launched his campaign earlier this month.
“It’s different this time. I’m standing here with a strong conviction that I am the leader needed at this time.”
Kishida previously served as LDP policy chief and was foreign minister between 2012-17, during which he negotiated accords with Russia and South Korea, with whom Japan’s relations are often frosty.
He has called abolishing nuclear weapons “my life’s work”, and in 2016 helped bring then-US president Barack Obama to Hiroshima on a historic visit.
But despite his liberal reputation, he has been less direct than Kono on social hot-button issues like gay marriage.
Vaccine chief Kono said he backed same-sex marriage and called for it to be discussed in parliament.
Kishida, however, said he had “not reached the point for accepting same-sex marriage”, and took a softer stance than Kono on allowing married couples to keep separate surnames, another controversial issue.
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