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Lower House election following expiration of term becoming realistic

By Tanaka Issei

 

Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide will not dissolve the House of Representatives, and the next Lower House election will be held in accordance with a Cabinet decision following the expiration of the current term of office (Oct. 21). Such scenario is becoming a reality. If that happens, it will be for the first time in 45 years. If that is the case, the voting day for the Lower House election will be on October 17. People in the prime minister’s circle are saying that it is a “regular procedure of constitutional politics” to elect new lawmakers within the four-year term set by the Constitution.

 

In addition to the fact that the prime minister has not dissolved the House of Representatives to date as he prioritizes the measures against COVID-19, the schedule of the LDP presidential election (to be announced on Sept. 17 and vote on Sept. 29) is also a reason for the last-minute Lower House election.

 

If a Lower House election is held without dissolving the House of Representatives, it will be the second time after the war since the Cabinet led by former Prime Minister Miki Takeo in 1976. It has been suggested that Prime Minister Suga will announce the plan at a press conference beforehand, and then have the cabinet decide on Sept. 21, 30 days before the expiration of the term of office.

 

The Public Offices Election Act stipulates that the vote shall be cast within 30 days of the expiration of the term of office, and this time it falls between Sept. 21 and Oct. 20. Since the date of the LDP presidential election has been officially set and it is not expected to go uncontested following the announcement of former Policy Research Council Chairperson Kishida Fumio’s candidacy, the options for the House of Representatives election are almost limited to the public announcement on Oct. 5 and the vote on Oct. 17 after the LDP presidential election.

 

Of a total of 25 Lower House elections held under the current Constitution, 24 were accompanied by the dissolution of the House of Representatives. In cases involving dissolution, it takes about one month to prepare for the vote and election campaign. If the schedule is calculated backwards based on the assumption that the vote will be held within the term of the Lower House members, the dissolution of the House of Representatives will take place just before or during the LDP presidential election. Canceling the LDP presidential election in the middle of the race for this reason [the dissolution of the House of Representatives] is likely to be seen as a “personal gain” for Prime Minister Suga who is seeking re-election as party president.

 

In exceptional cases, it is possible under the Public Office Election Act to dissolve the House of Representatives after the LDP presidential election, regardless of the term of office of the House of Representatives members, and postpone the voting date for the Lower House election until the end of October or November. However, there is no precedent for such a case under the current Constitution, and criticism that it is a “maneuver for party interests by the LDP” is inevitable.

 

“The LDP should not deviate from regular procedures of constitutional politics,” said a senior LDP official equivalent to a factional leader. Several other senior officials also call for holding a Lower House election at the end of term of office.

 

Nevertheless, holding a Lower House election at the end of term of office could be problematic. Such is the case if Kishida or a candidate other than the sitting prime minister wins the LDP presidential election [on Sept. 29].

 

The new LDP president will be nominated as prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session and will form a cabinet to start a new administration [after the LDP presidential election with the voting date on Sept. 29]. However, it will take “at least three weekdays” before an extraordinary Diet session convenes (according to a senior House of Representatives official). It will be nearly impossible for a new prime minister to inaugurate a new cabinet [after elected as LDP president on Sept. 29] before the public announcement of the Lower House election on Oct. 5.

 

Under the circumstances, the ruling and opposition parties are discussing the idea of separating the prime minister and the LDP president. In this case, the Suga cabinet would remain in power without nominating a new LDP president as prime minister, and the LDP would proceed with the Lower House election under the new president.

 

This would also be  an extremely unusual case. Since a Lower House election is also an opportunity for the people to judge the current administration, such a case would invite criticism as “unreasonable” from both inside and outside the LDP (a senior official of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan). In order to avoid such difficulties, there is a possibility that Prime Minister Suga may decide to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a general election after the term of office expires. (Abridged)

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