Tokyo - Japan's ruling party on Monday elected chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga as its new leader, making him all but certain to replace Shinzo Abe as the country's next prime minister.
Suga easily won the vote, taking 377 out of a total of 534 votes from Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and regional representatives, against two rivals.
His rivals, former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, trailed far behind.
Given the LDP's legislative majority, Suga is expected to handily win a parliamentary vote on Wednesday and become prime minister, taking over from Abe, who is resigning for health reasons.
A powerful government adviser and spokesperson, 71-year-old Suga is seen as promising stability and a continuation of Abe's policies.
He has specifically said his candidacy was motivated by a desire to continue the outgoing prime minister's programmes.
Abe, who smashed records as Japan's longest-serving prime minister before being forced to resign after a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, declined to publicly endorse any candidate.
The son of a strawberry farmer, Suga was raised in Japan's northern Akita region, and the issues of rural areas suffering depopulation are said to be among his top concerns.