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As speculation grows over the timing of the next general election, Prime Minister Taro Aso began moving Saturday toward holding it in early August, coalition sources said.

On Saturday night, Aso met with Hiroyuki Hosoda, the secretary general of his Liberal Democratic Party, to discuss election matters. What they concluded was not immediately clear.

“It is almost certain that Prime Minister Aso will dissolve the Lower House sometime in July. I would like to ask him whether he plans to dissolve the chamber soon or wait for various bills to be passed,” Hosoda told reporters in Nara Prefecture before the meeting.

Hosoda has repeatedly said that he hopes high-profile bills, including one to revise the Organ Transplant Law and another to allow Japan to inspect North Korean cargo ships on the high seas, get past the Diet before Aso dissolves the Lower House.

Even so, Hosoda said he wouldn’t try to push the issue with Aso.

According to the sources, Aso is apparently considering dissolving the House of Representatives in early or mid-July to hold the pivotal election on Aug. 2 or Aug. 9.

Aso himself floated the idea of holding an August election in a meeting Friday night with Akihiro Ota, leader of New Komeito, the ruling LDP’s junior coalition partner, the sources said.

Despite New Komeito’s repeated requests not to hold the election close to the July 12 Tokyo assembly race, Aso told Ota it would be difficult to keep the Tokyo assembly election and the general election more than a month apart, the sources said. Tokyo is New Komeito’s power base.

Aso also said Thursday at a news conference that his call to dissolve the Lower House would come “in the not-so-distant future.”

On Friday, he suggested the time frame for the remark covered up to around two months.

“What impression do you get if I say ‘in the not-so-distant future?’ I don’t think one month is so distant. I don’t think two months are also so distant,” Aso told reporters. “I will make the decision on the timing (for the dissolution) at an appropriate time.”

Aso’s remarks were perceived as a way for testing the waters for a July dissolution before the Tokyo assembly election and a general election in early August.

The sources also said Aso is considering reshuffling the LDP’s leadership as early as Thursday, after the Cabinet approves a ceiling for fiscal 2010 budget requests on Wednesday.

The reshuffle is aimed at refreshing the LDP’s image before the election, the sources said.

According to the lawmaker, Aso plans to replace Secretary General Hosoda, Policy Research Council Chairman Kosuke Hori and General Council Chairman Sasagawa. But Aso will let Election Strategy Council Chairman Makoto Koga stay in his post, the lawmaker said.

DPJ targets budget

The Democratic Party of Japan will freeze some of the measures in the supplementary budget for fiscal 2009 if it becomes the ruling party, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said Saturday.

Speaking in Sapporo, Hatoyama said the opposition-leading party would review the supplementary budget, which has been approved by the Diet, and that some of the measures would be frozen if deemed unnecessary.

“It will be difficult to stop the policy measures that are already being implemented, but we will slam the brakes on things that aren’t necessary,” Hatoyama said.

The party will submit a revised supplementary budget to the Diet to allocate funds for measures that are effective and important, he said.

As an example, Hatoyama said that some of the budget should be spent on welfare payments for single-parent households instead of building a new media center in Tokyo to promote animation and art. The welfare payments were terminated in April.

A bill being sponsored by the opposition to resume state welfare payments for single-parent households cleared the House of Councilors on Friday.

It is unlikely to clear the Diet, however, because the ruling bloc, which controls the powerful Lower House, opposes it.

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