Once bond bill clears, poll may soon follow

Lower House dissolution by Noda could be by year's end

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

With passage of the bond-issuance bill coming into sight, speculation was spreading Friday that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda may dissolve the Lower House for an election before year’s end.

For months, Noda has reiterated that various key issues have to be dealt with before he calls a general election, including the bond bill required to execute 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget.

Resistance from the opposition has blocked the bill’s passage in the divided Diet and even forced the government into spending cuts, but the Liberal Democratic Party and its main opposition ally, New Komeito, finally agreed Thursday to cooperate with Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan and pass the bill in the Lower House next week.

If the opposition-controlled Upper House also approves the legislation, it would be enacted later this month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura welcomed the move and indicated Noda may now be a step closer to dissolving the Lower House, as he pledged in August to do sometime “soon.”

“The bond bill should have been enacted at the end of March . . . and it is not directly linked to the dissolution of the House of Representatives,” Fujimura said, “but as the prime minister has said, its passage is one of the preconditions” for calling a general election.

National strategy minister Seiji Maehara also sounded confident Friday morning that Noda will dissolve the lower chamber by year’s end, telling reporters: “I’ve known the prime minister for a long time and he is an honest man. I am confident he is someone who keeps his promises.”

But if Noda does dissolve the Lower House this year, he will be playing straight into the hands of the LDP, which for months has been using the bond bill as leverage to pressure him into calling a snap election. It’s not clear if any dissolution would come in time for a December poll.

With recent media polls showing the LDP would soundly defeat the DPJ if the country goes to the polls anytime soon, the opposition party is pushing for a Lower House election to be held as quickly as possible.

However, there is understandably strong opposition within the ruling party — including from Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi — to having a general election in the near future since voters would almost certainly kick the DPJ out of office.

If Noda, who also serves as DPJ president, tries to dissolve the Lower House, some of his fellow party members may even attempt to mount a coup and replace him with a new leader.

Another major concern for the anti-Noda faction in the DPJ is his eagerness for Japan to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord, which aims to eliminate all tariffs among member states.

While Noda and certain powerful DPJ lawmakers, including Maehara and trade minister Yukio Edano, are pushing for Japan’s entry into ongoing negotiations on the TPP, some party members remain adamantly opposed, fearing the effect a flood of cheap farm produce would have on the agriculture sector.

At Friday’s news conference, Maehara said Japan’s participation in the TPP should be one of the key campaign issues in the next Lower House election.

“It is important to promote free trade, for instance by taking part in the TPP talks. The pros and cons should be discussed (by candidates during the next national vote).”

But Maehara stopped short of specifying when the government should announce Japan’s entry, saying only that as a Cabinet minister, he will follow Noda’s orders.

At a separate news conference, Edano said he believes Noda should reach a conclusion on the issue before his Diet term expires next summer.