Abe may dissolve Lower House on Tuesday, call snap December election


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to announce a plan Tuesday to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap election in December, according to senior ruling party lawmakers.

Official campaigning for the first general election since December 2012 will likely start Dec. 2, with election day on Dec. 14.

Abe is currently in Australia for a weekend summit of the Group of 20 economies, but he is scheduled to return home on Monday. After announcing the plan, he may dissolve the Lower House as early as Wednesday. The four-year term of current Lower House members isn’t set to expire until December 2016.

By moving for an earlier election, Abe aims to take advantage of the opposition parties’ unpreparedness for a national election. A December vote would also come ahead of Diet debates next year over unpopular bills including those related to Japan exercising collective self-defense, according to political analysts.

Abe is also expected to announce his intention to postpone a second planned consumption tax hike by 18 months to April 2017. The levy’s increase to 10 percent from the current 8 percent was originally scheduled to take effect in October 2015.

Following last April’s sales tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent, the economy shrank at a real annualized rate of 7.1 percent in the following quarter. Initial gross domestic product data for the July-September quarter will be released Monday, and are expected to be weak.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan previously had called on the government to raise the sales tax again as scheduled. But on Friday it made an abrupt policy shift, urging the Abe administration to freeze the tax at the current 8 percent rate.

The two-stage sales tax increase is aimed at covering swelling social security costs for the country’s graying population, and preventing Japan’s public debt, already the largest in the developed world at twice the size of the national economy, from soaring even higher.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, are scrambling frantically ahead of the anticipated general election.

The DPJ and Your Party, a minor force in the Diet, are considering merging ahead of the poll, party officials said Friday, adding the two groups have also sounded out Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), another small opposition entity, about joining them.

The DPJ and Your Party are now coordinating their stances on the potential merger. The DPJ holds 114 seats and Your Party 20 seats in the Diet.

It is possible that talk of the merger could lead to a split within Your Party by intensifying conflicts between current leader Keiichiro Asao and former chief Yoshimi Watanabe.

It is thought that more than five Your Party members would not join a new party created through a merger with the DPJ, and they would likely either follow Watanabe or join forces with Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), another small opposition group co-headed by Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s ultraright-wing former governor.

DPJ leader Banri Kaieda and Asao held talks Friday on drafting a common platform and coordinating candidates to field for the upcoming election.

Following the meeting, however, Asao was noncommittal about whether or not the parties intend to merge, saying it is “just a rumor.”