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Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on Friday hinted he does not intend to dissolve the Lower House and call general elections until the budget for the next fiscal year passes the Diet in late March. His comment came amid lingering speculation about the timing for the elections, including early January, when the ordinary Diet session starts. The general elections must be held before next October, when the four-year terms of the incumbent Lower House members expire. Asked about the issue in a television interview taping, Obuchi said the government now should complete and pass the fiscal 2000 budget in the Diet, indicating his intention to put emphasis on the economy. Obuchi has said one of the most important policy goals of his administration is to steer the economy onto a path toward real recovery. He has pledged to propel the economy to a real 0.5 percent growth rate for fiscal 1999. “I have to dissolve the lower chamber when necessary, even if it creates a political vacuum,” Obuchi said. “But now, I think the important thing we have to do is to compile the fiscal 2000 budget soon and to get an approval (in the Diet),” he said. Concerning the merger between his Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, Obuchi acknowledged that he has talked with the Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa about the move. “There are calls for the parties to work together as one,” Obuchi said. “It is true that we are talking about various issues from this perspective.” Obuchi said Wednesday a merger is a possibility, pointing to the two parties similarities.

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