Tokyo, Oct. 21 (Jiji Press)–With the expiration of the current term for House of Representatives members just a year away, both ruling and opposition parties are eager to know when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will dissolve the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, for a snap election to strengthen his political power base.
Within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, there were hopes that Suga would break up the Lower House by the end of this year for the general election, on the back of initial approval ratings as high as around 70 pct for his cabinet, launched only last month after his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s abrupt resignation as LDP president and prime minister. Suga is serving out Abe’s remaining term ending September next year.
But such hopes have waned since Suga hammered out the policy of fighting the novel coronavirus while reconstructing the virus-battered Japanese economy at the same time and started a series of his pet initiatives closely linked to people’s daily lives, including cuts in mobile phone rates.
“There would be no Lower House breakup within this year,” a senior LDP member close to Suga said.
People familiar with the situation said Suga now has three options on when to dissolve the chamber: at the outset of an ordinary Diet session in January, between the passage of the government’s fiscal 2021 budget in March and the opening of the Tokyo Olympics in July, or after the closing of the Tokyo Paralympics in September.
The prime minister can dissolve the Lower House as soon as it is called into an ordinary session, although the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 may be left undebated in the house, observers said. The government and the LDP are working to compile the extra budget to implement further coronavirus relief measures by the end of the year and introduce it to the ordinary session, expected to be convened in early January.
Even if the Lower House’s breakup comes before the start of parliamentary deliberations on the budget, Suga and the LDP-led ruling coalition can fight well the subsequent general election by pledging to implement generous relief programs, they said.
Another LDP executive pointed out that if the Diet business gets started on Jan. 4 as it did this year and the lower chamber is broken up immediately, Suga can launch his second cabinet before the Emperor’s birthday on Feb. 23.
Many LDP members think that the snap election should be held before the Suga administration is grilled by opposition parties during the Diet session, including over his unprecedented refusal to appoint six scholars as Science Council of Japan members despite the government council’s recommendation.
A source in Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, said lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, which is the party’s main support body, “seems to be bracing for a January breakup.” The group is known to have strong connections with Suga.
Observers said the second option for the prime minister is to dissolve the Lower House between late March and July 23, when the Tokyo Olympics kicks off, after having the fiscal 2021 budget enacted and paving the way for the proposed reduction in mobile communications fees so he can highlight these as his achievements in the election.
In this case, a Lower House poll may take place simultaneously with the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, which Komeito sees as important as a national contest, an LDP source said.
If Suga fails to break up the Lower House before the Olympics, he will have a final chance to do so after the Sept. 5 end of the Paralympics.
This option may allow Suga, whose term as LDP president will expire at the end of the same month, to win reelection as party head and, thus, stay on as prime minister after bringing a Lower House election victory to the coalition, or lead the coalition to win the election after gaining momentum from achieving his fresh term as party head.
But such a late Lower House dissolution is risky for Suga, too.
Even if his administration sees public support declining, he should manage to win the national contest for his own sake, critics said.