Speculation that elections may be held simultaneously next summer for both chambers of the Diet has not subsided within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
A summer 2016 election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber, to coincide with the triennial election for the House of Councilors, would spare the LDP the political consequences of an additional consumption tax hike, from 8 percent to 10 percent, scheduled for April 2017.
The talk of double elections has also been fueled by a proposal, being discussed by the government and ruling coalition, for convening the 2016 ordinary Diet session much earlier than usual.
Following the December 2014 election, the Lower House does not need to be dissolved for an election until December 2018.
A senior LDP official downplayed the likelihood of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling a Lower House election at the same time as the summer Upper House poll.
“Just 1½ years after (the previous election) late last year, it would be quite a surprise,” the official said.
Still, many believe Abe’s options are limited regarding the timing of a Lower House dissolution for a snap election.
There are five probable dissolution schedules often mentioned within the LDP — late this year, at the start of the ordinary Diet session in January 2016, in the summer of 2016, in late 2016 and at the start of the ordinary Diet session in January 2017.
Abe is expected to find it difficult to dissolve the Lower House after April 2017, due to an expected public backlash after the planned consumption tax increase. A dissolution in 2018, with the approach of the end of the terms of Lower House lawmakers, would give the impression that the Abe government has lost the initiative, many LDP members say.
Of the five scenarios, late this year and the start of the ordinary Diet session next January are seen as unlikely, as there would be only about a year since the previous Lower House race.
Dissolving the Lower House in late 2016 or at the start of the ordinary Diet session in January 2017 would raise concern over strains on party support groups only half a year after the coming Upper House election.
Therefore, simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections next summer look the most likely of the five scenarios.
For the Upper House election, speculation is rife that the official campaign period will begin on June 23 for voting on July 10, the earliest possible schedule after the voting age is lowered from 20 to 18 under the revised public offices election law, which takes effect on June 19.
To keep this option, the government and ruling camp are looking at the possibility of calling the Diet for an ordinary session on Jan. 4, for the earliest start since the current custom of a January convocation started in 1992.
If the Lower House is dissolved on June 1, when the 150-day ordinary Diet session convened on Jan. 4 would adjourn with no extension, an election can be held on July 10 under a public offices election law stipulation that an election should be held within 40 days of a Lower House dissolution.
A medium-ranking LDP member said, “The idea of calling the Diet session on Jan. 4 seems to be aimed in part at leaving room for double elections.”
But a Lower House election in 2016 does not necessarily have broad support within the LDP.
Young lawmakers who lack solid bases in the electorate are worried that they would face uphill campaigns after the enactment of contentious national security legislation in September and the broad agreement reached in October on the Trans-Pacific Partnership for free trade, which is expected to leave farmers, traditional supporters of the LDP, confronted by stronger competition from imports.
In addition, Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, is opposed to double elections, due to the increased burden on its campaign staff.
“We want them to work at full capacity in the Upper House election next summer,” a senior Komeito official said. “We cannot deal with a Lower House poll at the same time.”
By contrast, the main opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, is preparing for simultaneous Upper and Lower House elections.
A senior DPJ official expressed hope that double elections would spark realignment of opposition parties, after reorganization talks were stalemated due to a split of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party). But it is uncertain whether things will develop as the DPJ wishes.