TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike does not expect her new conservative party to pick a candidate for prime minister during the campaign for the Oct. 22 election, leaving the door open to eventually backing a lawmaker from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's party.
Koike's new Party of Hope has emerged as a serious challenge to Abe's Liberal Democratic Party supporter base, but she has said she would not personally contest the election.
Abe called the snap election last month in hopes his ruling bloc would keep its majority in parliament's lower house, where it now has a two-thirds "super" majority.
Losing a simple majority would be a major unexpected upset, but a poor performance by the LDP could put pressure on Abe to step down.
Asked in an interview published on Saturday by the Asahi newspaper whether Koike's party would pick a candidate for premier from its own ranks during the election, she replied: "Basically, no."
The campaign kicks off formally on Oct. 11.
Koike, 65, a former defense minister and ex-member of Abe's LDP, told Reuters on Friday that all options were on the table regarding whom her party would back when parliament convenes to vote on a prime minister after the election.
"We need to see the results (of the election). We must protect this country and at the same time, we must change it," Koike told Reuters.
"We will decide after the election after confirming the trend in which our Party of Hope can achieve this."
In the interview with the Asahi, Koike praised former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, whom she backed in a 2012 LDP leadership race won by Abe, and lauded Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda for her work on behalf of handicapped people.
Ishiba has criticized Abe on several fronts including his proposal to revise the post-war constitution's pacifist Article 9 by clarifying the status of the military. Ishiba says Abe's proposal does not go far enough.
Noda has said she wants to run in the next LDP leadership race when Abe’s current term expires in September 2018.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Michael Perry)