Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Wednesday he plans to dissolve the Lower House on Friday and schedule the general election for Dec. 16.
Noda made the offer in return for the opposition camp’s agreement to support an electoral reform bill submitted by his Democratic Party of Japan, when the Diet reconvenes in January.
“If you can make that decision, I think I could dissolve the Lower House on the 16th,” he told Liberal Democratic Party chief Shinzo Abe during a one-on-one debate session in the Diet.
Later in the day, Abe said he will “fully cooperate to carry out the proposal from the prime minister.”
“We will make out utmost efforts to enact a bill to cut Diet seats during the next ordinary session” that is expected to start in late January, Abe said in a speech.
Noda said Wednesday evening he is looking at a Dec. 16 election. Kyodo reported that he told DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi on Tuesday that he prefers that date.
Numerous DPJ members have tried desperately to stop Noda from dissolving the chamber as the party would suffer a crushing defeat if the election is held now.
Media polls and reports have suggested the DPJ could win fewer than 100 seats, whereas it won 308 in the 2009 election when it replaced the LDP as the ruling party.
Koshiishi was one of those DPJ members strongly opposed to an early election. But he told reporters “there is no choice but to leave the matter to the prime minister,” who “will never” waver from dissolving the Lower House.
Later the day, top executives of the DPJ and Noda’s Cabinet met, and Noda later emerged and told reporters they have agreed to dissolve the Lower House and prepare for the election.
Why Noda wants an election next month is unclear. But observers say he apparently believes the DPJ’s popularity would only continue to decline the longer he holds out, because the opposition parties would keep attacking him “as a liar” for promising in August to dissolve the chamber “soon.”
An early election could help protect the major parties from small emerging parties, most notably Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, because the newcoming forces won’t have time to field a strong lineup of candidates across the country.
The DPJ has proposed that the Diet correct the vote-value disparities in the Lower House and slash 40 seats from the proportional representation segment of the 480-member chamber.
While the DPJ and LDP have agreed to eliminate one single-seat district from each of five low-population prefectures to fix the disparity, the LDP was against the DPJ’s proposal to cut 40 representational seats.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that the gap in the 2009 Lower House election, in which the DPJ won a landslide victory, was in effect unconstitutional.
With the special bill to issue deficit-covering bonds expected to clear the Lower House on Thursday, Noda has been leaning toward dissolving the chamber.
Earlier Wednesday, veteran lawmakers, including former land minister Akihiro Ohata, former industry minister Banri Kaieda and former national policy state minister Satoshi Arai, met with Koshiishi and insisted that Noda not dissolve the Lower House this year.
“Thinking about the people as a whole, it’s not the right time to dissolve the Lower House,” Kaieda told reporters afterward.
Kaieda and 11 other veteran DPJ members jointly told Koshiishi that the party should first draft a budget for fiscal 2013, correct the vote-valuedisparities and hold internal discussions on the contentious issue of whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks.
Around 10 DPJ lawmakers opposing the TPP talks also asked Koshiishi to tell Noda to delay the election.
Noda’s sudden decision has also sparked speculation that more DPJ members will leave the party, as its popularity plunges, to avoid defeat in the election.
Masahiko Yamada, a former farm minister, has indicated he may leave the party if Noda dissolves the Lower House. Yamada and his allies handed Koshiishi a written request Wednesday stating that Noda should not declare Japan’s intention to join the TPP talks this month and not call a snap election this year.
Information from Kyodo added
Ex-minister exits DPJ
Sakihito Ozawa, a Lower House lawmaker and former environment minister, will leave the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to join a new party launched by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a senior official of Hashimoto’s party said Wednesday.
Although lawmakers have left the DPJ over policy differences and due to fears of surviving an election, Ozawa is the first former minister to go. He intends to run in the next election as an official candidate of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), according to Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who also serves as secretary general of the party.
Singh drops visit
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scheduled visit to Japan from Thursday has been postponed, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said Wednesday, citing Japan’s decision made earlier in the day to dissolve the Lower House for a December poll.
Singh had planned to visit to reconfirm strategic ties and discuss progress in cooperation in maritime security, cyberspace and other areas with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.