Japan lawmakers set for PM vote
( BBC ) - Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is preparing to choose a new leader in a vote that will also almost certainly decide Shinzo Abe's replacement as PM.
The contenders are the former foreign minister, Taro Aso, and former chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who is seen as the front-runner.
Mr Abe quit unexpectedly two weeks ago in a move that drew wide criticism.
It followed an embarrassing defeat in Japan's upper house elections in July, and a series of political scandals.
Mr Abe remains in hospital after being admitted with a stress-related stomach complaint a day after his resignation.
Steadying the ship
All 387 LDP members of parliament are eligible to vote. Party organisations in each prefecture will have three votes each - about a quarter of the total.
Whoever wins will become president of the LDP.
When parliament meets to elect a new prime minister on Tuesday, the LDP leader is virtually guaranteed to get the job because the party controls the more powerful lower house.
The BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says Mr Fukuda, the front-runner, is seen as the more stable of the two candidates.
After Shinzo Abe's messy resignation and gaffe-prone administration, party members are thought to be looking for someone who can steady the ship, our correspondent says.
Mr Fukuda, 71, has said that if elected he will tackle the growing income gap between poorer rural areas and wealthier urban zones.
He said Japan's relationship with the US would continue to be the "cornerstone" of his foreign policy, and that he wanted to continue logistical support for the war in Afghanistan despite growing opposition at home.
He also said he wanted to pursue a more conciliatory approach with Japan's neighbours China and North Korea.
His rival, Mr Aso, 67, a known conservative, has advocated a tough line towards North Korea and rejects changing the law to allow women to ascend the throne.
With close links to the outgoing prime minister, he helped Mr Abe thaw relations with China but has described Beijing's growing military spending as a threat to Japan and the region.