Noda remains tight-lipped on possible general election

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday remained tight-lipped on when he will call a general election, but he held talks with a heavyweight of his ruling party, at a time when speculation is rife that the premier has started exploring the possibility of dissolving the lower house by the end of the year.

Noda met with Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi at the premier’s residence in the evening, apparently to discuss the ruling party’s strategy ahead of the national election, which must be held by next summer.

Their meeting, which lasted for about an hour, took place a day after Noda said Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks will be included in the ruling party’s platform for the next general election, leading to speculation that he could dissolve the lower house soon.

Koshiishi, the DPJ’s No. 2, is known to oppose a dissolution of the House of Representatives by the end of the year, given that the government and the ruling party have been struggling with falling public support.

Koshiishi was mum after the meeting with Noda.

Earlier in the day, Noda told reporters in Tokyo, “I won’t specify and won’t tell what I have on my mind,” when asked whether he plans to refer to the potential schedule for the election during his first face-off Diet debate with Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, on Wednesday.

Noda, who promised the main opposition party in the summer that he will call a general election “sometime soon,” also said he “won’t comment” on whether he has already decided when to dissolve the lower house.

Whether Japan will take part in the FTA talks is a hot-button political issue, while the LDP and other opposition parties are urging Noda to dissolve the chamber by the end of December.

Noda’s intention to pledge Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations in the DPJ’s platform is viewed as an attempt to make the U.S.-led trade framework, favored by big Japanese companies but opposed by farmers and many opposition parties, the main point of contention in the run-up to the election.

On Sunday, Abe, who became LDP leader in September, said in a speech in the city of Niigata that he expects Noda to state in the next few days when he will dissolve the lower house.

Abe also said on a TV program that it would be possible to hold the election on Dec. 24.