Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda intends to dissolve the House of Representatives for a general election by the end of this year, his aides said Monday.
Noda’s decision comes as his government has almost secured passage of key bills, including a debt-financing bill for the current fiscal year through March, with cooperation from the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and its ally the New Komeito party, they said.
The premier, head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, will closely watch the development of discussions about how to reform the lower house electoral system before making a final decision on when to dissolve the lower house, the aides added.
The premier appears to have judged that he has to fulfill a promise he made to major opposition party leaders in August that he would go to the people “sometime soon” in exchange for obtaining their support to secure passage of a bill to double the 5 percent sales tax rate by 2015, his prized policy goal.
But many DPJ lawmakers remain opposed to an early election with public support for the Cabinet falling below 20 percent, due in part to the unpopular tax hike proposal, which may hamper Noda’s attempt to dissolve the lower house in the near term, ruling lawmakers said.
On Sunday, Noda told DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi during talks at the premier’s residence that he intends to dissolve the lower house by the end of this year for a general election, which must be held by next summer, political sources said.
Their meeting, which lasted 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 DPJ’s platform for the next election, fanning speculation he is accelerating preparations for a lower house dissolution.
Koshiishi, the DPJ’s No. 2 man, said at a press conference on Monday that it is the prime minister who would decide when to dissolve the lower house, but he indicated that it would be difficult for Noda to do so by the end of the year due to the tight schedule.
Noda has recently said he will make up his mind “in an appropriate manner when conditions are right.”
As one of the conditions, Noda has emphasized the need for the ruling and opposition camps to work together to pass a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance the regular budget for this fiscal year.
Swift passage of the bill is considered necessary as the Finance Ministry has warned that without it the government would run short of funds by late November.
The debt-financing bill is likely to be passed in the lower house as soon as Thursday and enacted during the current extraordinary parliamentary session expected to run through Nov. 30, as the LDP has suggested it will allow its passage.
The LDP could also step up efforts to move forward talks with the DPJ on a bill to reform the lower house electoral system, regarded as another condition for Noda to call a general election.
The country’s top court last year judged that the disparity in the weight of votes between the least and most populous electoral districts for the lower house is so great as to be unconstitutional.
The largest opposition party, headed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is now aiming to create an environment in which the LDP’s help in securing the passage of key bills could prod Noda to dissolve the lower house by the end of the year.
Opposition support is required for Noda to secure passage of any legislation in the current divided Diet, where the ruling coalition led by his DPJ lacks a majority in the House of Councillors.
Last year, the opposition bloc initially expressed its intention to reject the budget-related bill. The LDP and New Komeito eventually decided to cooperate with the DPJ and pass the bill in August in exchange for then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s resignation.
Dec. 24 election possible
The proposed general election may take place Dec. 24, opposition leader Shinzo Abe said on a Sunday TV talk show.
“An election on Christmas Eve is possible,” said Abe, president of the Liberal Democratic Party, the top opposition force.
Abe reiterated his party’s demand that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda call the election for before the end of the year.
If the election is not held until January, work on next year’s budget would be delayed and stimulus spending would be more difficult, Abe said.
Speaking at a news conference in Shimanto, Kochi Prefecture, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba meanwhile said a Dec. 24 election wouldn’t be all that far-fetched even though elections are normally held on Sundays.