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Quakes seen to all but rule out possibility of double election for Abe

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Aftershocks from the deadly twin earthquakes that rocked the Kyushu region have sent shock waves all the way to Tokyo’s Nagata-cho, the political heart of Japan.

The still-unfolding disasters have prompted numerous politicians to speculate that any attempt by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to dissolve the Lower House for a double election is unlikely.

An Upper House poll is already slated for the summer.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the December 2014 Lower House election after postponing the consumption tax hike, originally scheduled for October 2015. Abe was reportedly weighing a repeat of this tactic this summer.

But any dissolution of the Lower House and the ensuing election would cost taxpayers billions of yen and leave the chamber empty for several weeks.

It would likely draw strong public criticism at a time when quake survivors in Kyushu are still struggling with shortages of relief supplies and continued disruptions of gas, water and electricity.

“There double election is off the table,” a Komeito executive reportedly told Kyodo News on Tuesday. Komeito is a junior partner in the ruling coalition with Abe’s LDP.

A Cabinet minister, who was also anonymously quoted, agreed.

“You can’t talk about a double election when strong aftershocks are continuing. I don’t think it’s possible.”

At a Wednesday news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, claimed the prime minister had not even considered dissolving the Lower House in the first place.

“The prime minister has continued to say that he was not considering a dissolution at all,” Suga said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the ruling party have begun arguing for another postponement of the planned tax hike, which is hugely unpopular.

In an interview published by the Nikkei business daily Wednesday, LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada said she also believes that the government “should not raise the consumption tax if it would wreck the Japanese economy.”

As one possible option to soften the adverse effects of the second-stage tax hike, Inada also argued for raising the rate by 1 percentage point instead of the planned 2 percentage points from 8 percent to 10 percent.

“A conclusion should be drawn when the initial stage of responses to the disaster ends,” Inada was quoted as saying.

The tax hike was originally scheduled for October 2015, but was postponed by Abe in November 2014 — ahead of elections the next month — to April 2017.

At that time, Abe pledged not to postpone the hike again unless the Japanese economy was hit by an extraordinary economic shock, such as the 2008 global financial crisis or the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Suga told the news conference Wednesday that the government does not currently believe the Kyushu quakes’ economic effect will be damaging enough to automatically trigger another tax-hike delay.