TOKYO, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Campaigning officially kicked off Tuesday for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) top post with three candidates vying for the position to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe is stepping down due to a recurrent health issue that also brought his first tenure as prime minster to an abrupt end in 2007.

The race is between Yoshihide Suga, 71, Japan's top government spokesperson and Chief Cabinet Secretary, Shigeru Ishiba, 63, a former defense minister, and Fumio Kishida, 63, the LDP's policy chief.

The candidates will be making their pitches ahead of the leadership election to be held next Monday. The new prime minister will be announced at an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Sept. 16.

The winner of the election is almost certain to become the next prime minister owing the LDP's dominance in both chambers of Japan's bicameral parliament.

Suga, who has the backing of the majority of LDP lawmakers, has promised to continue with Abe's economic policies and approach to tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Kishida has said he wants to focus on readdressing earning imbalances in society and the need to tackle the spread of the COVID-19 while balancing economic issues.

Ishiba said that he wants to create more jobs and increase living standards in rural areas by raising incomes.

The party decided to hold a scaled-down version of the leadership election so that Abe's successor could be selected quickly, without creating a vacuum or causing distraction from the government's efforts to combat the pandemic.

In the scaled-down vote, 394 Diet members will cast ballots and a total of 141 votes will be cast by three delegates each from the country's 47 prefectural chapters.

Due to the pandemic, the candidates will be making their campaign pledges and outlining their policies online and during television appearances.