Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori dissolved the Lower House on Friday and called a general election for June 25, placing the fate of his leadership in the hands of voters.
The coming House of Representatives race will be the first nationwide poll since the Liberal Democratic Party formed a powerful coalition with New Komeito as its key ally in October.
The economy, which is showing signs of recovery, will be a main campaign issue.
Fiscal reconsolidation will be another as the government turns a wary eye to the nation’s massive debt.
Opposition forces, meanwhile, are sharpening their campaign knives, ready to carve up the question of whether Mori is qualified to be prime minister. So far their best cutting tool has been Mori’s own words, his controversial remark that Japan is a “divine nation centered on the Emperor.”
“Given such pressing issues as the economy and the upcoming Group of Eight summit (in Okinawa), I have decided to dissolve the Lower House to confirm the will of the people,” Mori told a Cabinet meeting in the morning.
The Cabinet endorsed Mori’s decision.
The Lower House was dissolved shortly after 1 p.m. as House Speaker Soichiro Ito read out at a plenary session an official rescript of dissolution sent to the chamber in the name of the Emperor.
Ito’s announcement was followed by applause and lawmakers chanting “Banzai!” — a customary practice when the legislature is dissolved.
At an extraordinary Cabinet meeting held immediately after the Lower House was dissolved, the Mori administration formally set the election for June 25.
Most lawmakers headed straight for their respective constituencies ahead of official campaigning, which begins June 13.
In the upcoming poll, candidates will vie for 480 Lower House seats. That’s in line with a law enacted in February during a legislative boycott by opposition parties that reduced the number of seats by 20.
“The political situation has changed greatly over the three years and seven months (since the last election),” Mori told LDP lawmakers after the session. “But we will try to persuade (the public) that the political situation will not be stable without the LDP at the center of politics.”
A no-confidence motion against the Mori Cabinet, jointly submitted to the Lower House by four major opposition parties Wednesday, was not put to a vote during Friday’s plenary session because the chamber’s dissolution supersedes other items on the agenda.
LDP leaders had initially planned to hold the general election in autumn, when the four-year term of the Lower House members expires.
However, the sudden departure in April of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who became incapacitated after a stroke left him comatose, and the opaque succession of power that followed prompted party heavyweights to bring the timing forward in hopes of solidifying Mori’s footing as the nation’s leader prior to July’s G8 summit.
The LDP’s aspirations, however, may evaporate, partly due to Mori’s “divine nation” remark last month. Various opinion polls show public support for the Mori Cabinet has plunged dramatically since his comment, which he has refused to retract.
During the election campaign, the tripartite ruling bloc will probably underscore its efforts to put the economy on a steady recovery track. Meanwhile, the opposition camp is likely to criticize the reckless spending of the government and tell voters that it is necessary to reform the nation’s deficit-ridden finances.
How serious is the opposition about plugging the nation’s finances? It has already told voters that it backs a tax increase.
Special Diet session
A special session of the Diet will be convened in early July, following the June 25 general election, a top government official said Friday.
The official said Friday’s dissolution of the House of Representatives and the general election are designed to build a stable regime ahead of the Okinawa summit of the Group of Eight major nations in July.
He said it would be reasonable to expect the Diet to be convened and a new Cabinet named before a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven nations in Fukuoka on July 8.
The official also revealed that Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono will remain in the Cabinet to deal with the summit.
Article 54 of the Japanese Constitution states that a general election must be conducted within 40 days of the dissolution of the House of Representatives and that the Diet must be convened within 30 days of the date of the election.