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Suga’s three snap election scenarios

The terms of the current Lower House members expire in October 2021. It means that a general election will take place at some point in the next year. Although Suga has the option of holding a snap election at any time, he must take into consideration that his term as Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president also expires in September 2021. Which scenario for the Lower House election would allow Suga to maintain his current position of strength through the next LDP presidential contest?


Scenario 1: Take advantage of high public support by holding snap election between this autumn and early 2021


Some LDP members speculate that a snap election will be held sometime between this autumn and the end of this year at the earliest.


Generally speaking, the inauguration of a new cabinet boosts public support for the ruling party and the government. Those advocating for an early snap election believe the party should take advantage of this “festive spirit” among the public to win the election.


The extraordinary Diet session this autumn is expected to deliberate on the Japan-UK economic partnership agreement (EPA). Also, a bill will be submitted that would make the government responsible for compensating damage caused by side effects from COVID-19 vaccines. The Diet may be dissolved after it passes these items.


The new prime minister is cautious about an early dissolution, however. On Sept. 14 before he took office as prime minister, Suga said, “(Dissolution of the Lower House) would be difficult unless experts agree that the pandemic is under control.” On Sept. 16 after taking office, Suga reiterated, “I want to concentrate (on economic recovery),” indicating that the pandemic and economy will take precedence over dissolution of the Lower House.


Additionally, seasonal flu may exacerbate the COVID-19 problem during the autumn and winter. If Suga prioritizes monitoring COVID-19 and the flu through year-end, the next opportunity for the dissolution will be early next year, right after the ordinary Diet session resumes in January. However, that decision might harm the Suga administration’s pledge to prioritize economic recovery.


If the Lower House were dissolved immediately after the Diet is convened, the election would likely take place sometime in February — although the exact timing depends on when the Diet is convened. As it customarily takes about two months to deliberate and enact the budget and the related tax bills, dissolution of the Lower House might delay the enactment of the budget until April, after the start of the next fiscal year.


If that turns out be the case, an interim budget package would be needed to allocate fixed government spending, such as payment of government workers and administrative expenses. It would further delay budget allocations for policy items and negatively affect the nation’s economy.


Scenario 2: Secure position going into LDP presidential election by holding snap election after next spring


If Suga were to hold the snap election this autumn or early next year, his influence over the LDP might decline afterwards.


If the LDP wins the Lower House election, the members would secure four more years in the chamber. With the knowledge that it is quite unlikely that another election would be held soon, they would feel comfortable engaging in intra-party power struggles without worrying about the public eye.


These members may make political moves to promote “post-Suga” candidates when the next LDP presidential election comes around in September 2021.


Taking this into consideration, Suga may decide not to hold the Lower House election until sometime close to the next LDP presidential election, raising the possibility of a Lower House election “after the enactment of the budget in March 2021.”


The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are scheduled for summer 2021. John Coats, chairman of the International Olympics Committee’s Tokyo 2020 Coordination Committee, said that notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo Games will not be canceled or further delayed. If the Suga administration were to hold the general election after enacting the budget and hosting the Games, it might be able to emphasize the twin achievements of economic revitalization and ending the pandemic.


In addition, if the LDP were to win the Lower House election at that time, it would effectively be a vote of confidence in the Suga cabinet. Through this, Suga could maintain his grip on the party until the presidential election.


There is a risk in holding the next presidential election and the snap election close to each other, however. If the economy sinks further and drags approval ratings down, Suga might end up losing both elections. If he waits too long to dissolve the Lower House, he might be forced to hold the election under unfavorable circumstances.


Scenario 3: Dissolve Lower House after LDP presidential election win


Suga may opt to dissolve the Lower House after the LDP presidential election. The next presidential election will be a full-fledged election, unlike the recent one. Candidates will have a chance to campaign locally and hold debates nationwide. Campaigning will also enhance party recognition and promote its agenda.


If the prime minister wins the party presidential election, it will boost the likelihood of the party’s having a victory in the Lower House snap election.


Suga has already put forward his administration’s agenda, such as establishing the digital agency, restructuring local banks and small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as lowering mobile phone fees. He has been promoting his cabinet as one that will “work for the people.” Advocates of holding a snap election later argue that the new administration will need a certain amount of time to post achievements in these areas before a snap election could be held. (Abridged)

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