Image copyright AFP Image caption Fumio Kishida with his wife Sanae Abe at the finish line
Fumio Kishida has won the vote for Japan’s post of prime minister, beating the incumbent Shinzo Abe.
After five months in office, Mr Abe is finally relinquishing the position.
But the 73-year-old intends to remain as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, which he has held since 2007.
He will be joined in the post-election line-up by coalition partner Komeito.
The victory by Mr Kishida was less expected.
The former Tokyo governor had received just one third of the vote in September, but he surged ahead in a last-minute boost for the smaller party.
‘Most respected leader’
“It is true that the victory came as a surprise to everyone,” Mr Kishida told reporters.
But, he continued, “I consider it a real honour and privilege to become the prime minister of a great nation.”
He thanked Shinzo Abe for his “trust and admiration”.
Mr Abe said Mr Kishida was “the most respected leader in the party”, reflecting a reluctance to clear the path for other parties.
Mr Kishida’s job as party leader was to win his seat in the parliament, hoping to use the party as a base for a future tilt at the top job.
Mr Abe said he would step down as LDP leader on Wednesday, to make way for him.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption LDP leader Kishida is now Japan’s prime minister
After enjoying the largest victory since the 1964 election for the end of World War II, the Liberals are likely to see off two other strong contenders for the top job.
The incumbent of the lower house, Toshihiro Nikai, is considered Mr Kishida’s leading challenger.
But a rival could emerge from within the party, as Abe adviser Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, recently expressed his interest in the job.
This would mark a return to the top job for Koizumi, whose wife Akie is a member of the LDP.
In 2011, he left the LDP, but said he would return if it was in an excellent position, and by gaining 33 seats during this election he could achieve that.
Mr Abe will, until a successor to him is chosen, retain his own ministerial posts.
The new prime minister will be presented to the Diet after the election, and will then have to form a government from the outgoing one.