(Sentaku: March, 2016 – p. 48 – 50)
Prime Minister Abe’s approach in running the government is centered on being on the offensive. Since he took office for the second time in December 2012, Abe has always been one step ahead of the political scene. The surprise dissolution of the House of Representatives in November 2014 was symbolic of this. Before the dissolution, Abe decided to postpone the second hike in the consumption tax to 10%, which was scheduled for October 2015, until April 2017. By making the postponement a point of contention, Abe called a general election.
However, Abe’s decision to dissolve Lower House was not haphazard. He made a number of strategic preparations. First, Abe had then Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yuko Obuchi and then Justice Minister Midori Matsushima resign over money scandals (October 20). Immediately after the two ministers’ resignation, the Bank of Japan introduced an additional monetary easing policy known as the “Kuroda Bazooka” (October 31). In the diplomatic realm, Abe met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (November 10). In order to obtain consent from the junior coalition partner Komeito about exercising the right to dissolve the House of Representatives, Abe promised Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi that he would introduce the reduced tax rate that Komeito had strongly called for (November 17).
Now Abe seems to be seeking an opportunity for simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors in July. This is because the consumption tax hike, which was once postponed, is scheduled for April 2017. Whether or not Abe’s moves are really a prelude to dissolution is unclear. It is certain, however, that Abe has taken steps similar to the strategic preparations he made prior to the 2014 dissolution. The first step was the agreement with South Korea about the comfort women issue (December 2015). Next, Abe ousted former Minister in Charge of Economic Revitalization Amari over a money scandal (January 28). The following day (January 29), Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda announced the introduction of an unprecedented negative interest rate policy.
Why did Abe convene the regular Diet session on January 4? Because if the Lower House were dissolved at the end of Diet Session (June 1), it would be possible to hold a simultaneous election on July 10.
Another factor that indicates Abe’s intention to implement a double election is the consideration given to setting the date of the official election announcement. The period for a House of Councillors election campaign is 17 days in principle. Under this principle, if the voting day were July 10, the election announcement day would have to be June 23. This date, however, falls on Okinawa Memorial Day. The incumbent prime minister customarily attends the memorial service. Announcing the election on this day could invite opposition from Okinawa that the government is making light of Okinawa. Under the circumstances, Abe clearly stated, “June 23 will not be the day the election is announced.” The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Feb. 21 that “Abe is considering extending the House of Councillors election period to avoid Okinawa Memorial Day.” The paper speculated that Abe is attempting to move forward the election announcement date to make simultaneous elections possible on July 10.
In 1986, then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone carried out a double election for the Upper and Lower and Houses. The election was conducted with an electoral system reform of 18-plus and 7-minus for the reapportionment of Diet seats. In the same year Japan hosted the Tokyo Summit [G7]. Thirty years have passed since then, but the current political situation is very similar to that of 1986 in terms of the ongoing reapportionment of Diet seats and Japan’s hosting of the Ise-Shima Summit in May. But there is still a major problem. Abe’s dissolution this time, if he implements it, lacks a plausible reason. (Abridged)