Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House on Friday to pave the way for his Dec. 14 snap election, surprising voters after two years in office with what he calls an urgent referendum on “Abenomics.”
The break-up of the chamber followed his decision Tuesday to postpone the second stage of the consumption tax hike until April 2017. The rise to 10 percent from 8 percent was originally scheduled to take place next October to complete the doubling of the unpopular levy.
The delay was called after dismal gross domestic product data spelled out an uncomfortable truth: Japan is back in recession.
Official campaigning for the election kicks off on Dec. 2.
Abenomics comprises radical monetary easing combined with fiscal stimulus and vows of structural reforms. After months of optimistically waxing on the success of his program, the prime minister now says the election will serve as a public referendum on it and his decision to delay the tax hike after the dismal GDP data. He has promised his Liberal Democratic Party that he will spearhead the battle to get every member re-elected.
“This is the ‘Abenomics’ dissolution,” Abe said at a news conference later in the day. “The election is to query (the public on) whether we should proceed with it or stop it.
“I’d like to ask the public whether my economics policies are wrong or right, or if there is any other choice,” he said in an unusually sober admission.
Abe said he will step down if the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition fails to secure a majority in the powerful lower chamber, which will have 475 seats instead of the current 480 to correct voting disparities.
The ruling camp has a majority of 325 seats, so Abe can comfortably lose more than 80 seats and still remain ahead.
LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki echoed his view, telling reporters Friday morning, “Our party will look for a win for everyone it endorses or recommends.”
Abe’s policies to strengthen the economy have produced many results but have “some weaknesses,” Tanigaki said. “We will try to generate a positive growth cycle for the economy and continue to fight until the end of the election.”
Political analysts say that although Abe’s LDP will probably lose some of its grip on the chamber — the ruling camp held 70 percent of seats at the time of dissolution — the party will win the election.
According to a Kyodo telephone survey on Wednesday and Thursday, 25.2 percent of the respondents said they would vote for the LDP and 9.4 percent said they would support the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
But because 44.4 percent said they were undecided, swing voters could come out in force in favor of the LDP, the poll suggested.
The poll also found that 63 percent of people are baffled by Abe’s decision to dissolve the Lower House.
“When the public wonders why (Abe) decided to dissolved the Diet, I believe we must humbly and politely interact with those people. Otherwise, I think our thoughts will fail to reach the public,” Shinjiro Koizumi, an LDP lawmaker and son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, told reporters after the Diet was dissolved.
“I think this would be the election where the public will pass judgment on the past two years of LDP rule,” he said.
In a last-minute move to win votes, the ruling camp finalized Thursday another stimulus package to shore up sluggish public spending since the April 1 tax hike to 8 percent from 5 percent dealt a body blow to consumption.
The size of the package was reportedly up to ¥3 trillion, which is much smaller than the previous stimulus package.
The package includes tax breaks for home buyers, gasoline and kerosene subsidies for people on low incomes, and spending on disaster prevention measures following fatal mudslides in Hiroshima in August and the Mount Ontake volcanic eruption the following month.
The ruling parties plan to include the stimulus package in their campaign pledges.
Meanwhile, opposition parties are playing on public fears about why Abe has called an early election. Critics note that no party opposed his decision to delay the tax hike, and therefore, they say, to label the election as an invitation to cast approval is absurd.
Opposition parties also call Abe’s economic policies a failure, given that wages are shrinking in real terms.
Before breaking up, the Diet enacted two key government-sponsored bills designated to help revitalize regional economies. One calls for local governments to cooperate in compiling economic strategies, while the other outlines the basic principles of revitalization.
But many other key bills were scrapped Friday after time ran out, including one to promote the status of women — a central pillar of Abe’s vaunted aim to realize a society where “all women can shine.”
Also scrapped was an amendment to the adult-entertainment business law that would allow dance clubs to operate past midnight on condition that they meet certain lighting regulations.
Information from Kyodo added