TOKYO - Japan's brash, right-leaning former foreign minister announced Friday that he would run for ruling party president in a move that would put him on track to take over as Japan's next prime minister.
Taro Aso, 67, is widely considered the front-runner to replace struggling Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who announced Monday that he would step down amid sagging poll numbers and troubles with the split parliament.
A former Olympic skeetshooter, Aso is focusing his campaign on Japan's troubled economy, which is suffering from stagnating growth, weak consumer spending and inflation.
"The recovery of the domestic economy and clearing the unease of the people, these are the things we have to address in the election," Aso told reporters Friday.
Aso's candidacy for the Sept. 22 vote in the Liberal Democratic Party was widely expected.
The LDP election is expected to be followed on Sept. 24 with a vote in parliament for prime minister. The party's hold on the powerful lower house all but guarantees that the LDP president will then be elected premier.
Three other candidates tipped to also run for LDP president are Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and TV anchorwoman; Economic Minister Kaoru Yosano; and Nobuteru Ishihara, the son of Tokyo's governor.
The vote will take place amid political and economic uncertainty in Japan.
The opposition, which took over the upper house of parliament in elections last year, has been pushing noisily for snap lower house elections.
The Asahi, a major newspaper, said on Thursday that 56 percent of Japanese are in favor of dissolving parliament and holding general elections "as soon as possible," according to a telephone poll of 1,069 people.