Just one day after a crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race, Prime Minister Taro Aso played his ultimate trump card Monday and announced the Lower House election will be held Aug. 30 under his leadership.
The opposition camp led by the Democratic Party of Japan, meanwhile, submitted a censure motion in the Upper House and a motion of no confidence in the Lower House against Aso.
Although the nonbinding censure motion was likely to be approved by the opposition-controlled Upper House, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc was set to reject the vote of no confidence in the Lower House. The motions will be voted on Tuesday.
During a meeting with Cabinet ministers and executives of the LDP-New Komeito camp, Aso explained he wants to dissolve the Lower House early next week after key remaining bills are cleared, including one to enable inspections of vessels going to and coming from North Korea.
“I would like to dissolve the Lower House early (next) week and hold a general election Aug. 30,” Aso said later, indicating July 21 would be the first possible date for dissolving the chamber. “I would like to seek the judgment of the people and ask them which party would (better) protect their lives and Japan.”
Aso criticized the DPJ, saying it is only focused on seizing control of the government and lacks concrete policies.
“The DPJ is calling for a change in government power,” he said. “But the party has not displayed any realistic policies nor sources of revenue. From our viewpoint, the DPJ is just (focusing on) the party’s interests and is indifferent to the opinions of the voters.”
During the meeting with Cabinet ministers, he apologized for the devastating loss in the Tokyo assembly race, in which the LDP not only lost its position as the No. 1 party but also failed to hang on to its decisive majority with junior coalition partner New Komeito, according to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jun Matsumoto.
“But I cannot deny that the LDP’s confusion (led to a negative response from voters in) the election. As party president, I am extremely sorry,” Aso was quoted as saying.
Many LDP heavyweights and New Komeito lawmakers had hoped Aso would push back the election date. After Aso’s announcement, New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota expressed satisfaction over the prime minister’s decision.
“I have been saying for some time that both the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race and the Lower House general election are extremely important and that putting some time in between the two would make it possible for us to accurately catch the will of the people,” Ota said. “From that viewpoint, I think that Aug. 30 was a good choice.”
But Sunday’s race was a historic defeat for the LDP and it is questionable whether it can regain the support of the voters by the end of August.
Of 221 candidates who vied for the 127 seats, the LDP lost 10 seats and was only able to hang on to 38, which matched its worst result, recorded in 1965, while New Komeito added one for a total of 23 seats.
The DPJ won a sweeping victory with 54 seats. The Japanese Communist Party won eight and Tokyo Seikatsusha Network and independents won two each. Voter turnout was 54.49 percent, up 10.5 percentage points from the previous election.
Despite the disastrous results for the ruling bloc, New Komeito’s Ota stressed that the party would continue its coalition with the LDP.
“I have nothing to say to the LDP but to say let’s do our best and have a firm collaborative relationship,” Ota said.
The results of other recent local elections and Sunday’s race in Tokyo clearly show that the nation doesn’t approve of the Aso Cabinet, a reason why the opposition decided to submit the no-confidence motion, DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka said.
“While (the Cabinet) calls for economic stimulus measures and stresses the importance of their policies, in the end they’re only interested in saving their own necks,” he said.
“While there is hope among the public for the DPJ, at the same time the people are harshly critical of the LDP’s politics,” Naoki Minezaki said. “Aso should have dissolved the house sooner and I think that heavy responsibility lies in the prime minister and the LDP for putting it off for so long.”
Suffering from disastrously low public support, Aso was already troubled by some strong voices within the LDP urging him to step down, and after Sunday’s crushing loss the calls were bound to intensify.
But by coming out and saying he would dissolve the Lower House soon and lead the LDP in the election, it looks like Aso has managed to stave off the calls for his head.
“I am well aware that there is criticism over the current situation, but I don’t think that I should be irresponsible and step down and give up everything,” Aso said. “Therefore, I think right now is the time for me to grit my teeth and do my best . . . I think the most important thing for me is to fight and not run away.”