Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday named former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida its next leader, Reuters reported. The development puts him on the course to become the country’s prime minister in the next few days, replacing Yoshihide Suga.

On September 3, Suga said he will not run for re-election as leader of the LDP. He has been facing widespread criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kishida, who reportedly enjoys a moderate public support, was backed by several senior party leaders in the race for the prime minister’s chair. In the party election, he faced competition from Minister for Administrative Reform Taro Kono, who was in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout in the country.

In the initial vote for the LDP’s leadership, none of the four contenders received a majority, according to CNN. In the subsequent runoff vote, Kishida won 257 votes while Kono received 170 votes.

Kishida is expected to take over as the prime minister at a parliamentary session on Monday. National elections in Japan are slated to be held before November 28.

After his appointment, Kishida said that the government will strive to achieve both economic growth and the distribution of wealth. He added that he will “start running at full speed” to work towards a bright future for Japan, CNN reported.

“We must continue our efforts with the desperate determination to take measures against Covid-19,” Kishida said. “In addition, we must firmly develop economies of scale of several tens of trillions by the end of the year.” Kishida promised to spend billions of dollars to enable Japan’s economy to recover from the impacts of coronavirus-related restrictions.

Kishida had served as Japan’s foreign minister from 2012 to 2017 in the government headed by Shinzo Abe. However, he has criticised Abe’s economic policies recently, saying that only the rich got richer under his tenure, BBC reported.

Abe resigned from the post of prime minister in August 2020 because of poor health. Suga replaced Abe as the prime minister of Japan in September last year. He had won the leadership contest within the LDP by securing 377 out of 534 votes.

Before becoming the prime minister, he had served as the chief cabinet secretary under Abe between 2012 and 2020.

While announcing that he will not seek re-election as the leader of the LDP, Suga had said that the battle against the coronavirus had taken a vast amount of his energy. “I don’t feel it is possible to carry on with that and fight the upcoming election for the party leadership,” he had said.