Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested Tuesday he may dissolve the House of Representatives next month because holding simultaneous Lower and Upper House elections in summer “is not a good idea.”
With Koizumi’s re-election in Saturday’s Liberal Democratic Party presidential race all but certain, political attention has shifted to whether Koizumi will dissolve the Lower House in October, as most Diet members expect.
The Upper House is scheduled to hold its triennial election in June, and a Lower House election must be held by that time, before members’ four-year terms expire.
Many LDP members in the Upper House reportedly hope the elections for both chambers will be held simultaneously, but New Komeito, a partner in the ruling coalition, is against such a plan.
“It’s not just New Komeito,” Koizumi said in response during an interview with The Japan Times and foreign media, “but many in the LDP also feel that holding two elections together would be burdensome because each house has a different election system.
“I’ve always thought that it’s not a good idea to hold the elections of both houses on the same day.”
Based on the Diet schedule, the earliest date the prime minister could dissolve the Lower House is Oct. 10. If it does happen then, an election is most likely to be held Nov. 9.
Koizumi declined to comment on specific timing, saying only, “I know that many people are thinking” the election will be held in the fall.
Referring to the first anniversary of his historic visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002, Koizumi said he might visit Pyongyang again during his three-year term, under the right circumstances.
He would not say whether he planned to visit before the two countries reach an agreement to normalize ties.
“I would do anything to push for normalization if the timing is ripe,” he said.
Pyongyang must allow the American husband and seven North Korean-born family members of five abductees who returned home last year to come to Japan before normalization talks can resume, he said.
Some in the government, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, have said that the case of Hitomi Soga, who is married to the American, will be treated differently to the other returnees, Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike and Yasushi and Fukie Chimura.
Koizumi said the government has a firm policy of trying to bring all eight family members to Japan. “We will continue to do so,” he said.
The prime minister said Japan and North Korea might hold a bilateral meeting on the abduction issue before the next six-nation talks are held.
“It’s possible, and we will talk on any occasion,” he said.
Asked about the Cabinet reshuffle, widely expected to take place Sunday if he is re-elected, Koizumi said he would appoint private sector personnel to Cabinet posts “if appropriate.” There are strong calls from within the LDP to select ministers from the ranks of Diet members.
Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka’s position in the Cabinet has been the focus of attention; many LDP members are calling for his removal. But Koizumi only reiterated that Takenaka’s cooperation is “indispensable” in his structural reform drive. He refused to say, however, whether he would reappoint Takenaka.
Koizumi has made comments suggesting he will keep Takenaka while maintaining that he will decide for sure after the presidential election.
“Of course, I will name someone who would cooperate with my (reform) track,” he said.
Koizumi was vague about specific measures to implement two of his key election pledges: the privatization of postal services and four debt-ridden expressway public corporations.
Last year, an expert panel under Koizumi drew up a radical report that prioritized the establishment of privatized road firms that would focus on the repayment of growing debts, now totaling 40 trillion yen, instead of building new, unprofitable roads. Such a plan would deal a severe blow to many ruling party lawmakers who favor boosting road construction in their constituencies.
But Koizumi only said he will “basically respect the report,” and failed to touch on any details on the privatization scheme.