Japan's main ruling Liberal Democratic Party will choose its next leader soon. The winner is virtually assured to become Prime Minister. And the race appears tight.
Four veteran lawmakers are running: Regulatory Reform Minister Kono Taro, former LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Kishida Fumio, former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Takaichi Sanae, and LDP Executive Acting Secretary-General Noda Seiko.
Each sitting LDP Diet member gets a vote. Ballots already cast by the party's rank-and-file will be given equal weight.
NHK's analysis of voter intentions suggests Kono has an advantage among the rank-and-file and will likely take the most overall votes.
But he is not expected to win more than half --- which would force a runoff between the top two vote-getters.
In the second round, lawmaker votes are given more weight. Attention is focused on whether the Kishida and Takaichi camps can cooperate to overtake Kono, and win.
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide is not running. He said he needs to focus on the coronavirus pandemic --- which has put much of Japan under a months-long state of emergency.
Each candidate is promising to get the medical system and economy back in shape. Kono touted his achievements heading Japan's vaccine rollout, while Kishida proposed setting up temporary hospitals.
Takaichi emphasized the need for local production of medicines. Noda pushed for a better access to treatment.
Lawmakers will start voting at around 1 p.m.