Speculation is growing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election on Oct. 22 to prevent a realignment in the opposition camp.
The speculation was fueled by an apparent move by member close to popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike toward forming a new political party within the year.
“We can’t deny the possibility of an Oct. 22 general election,” lawmaker Masaru Wakasa, an independent, said at a news conference held Monday to launch a political group called Nippon First no Kai (Japan First) that aims to join forces with the governor.
Two by-elections in Aomori and Ehime prefectures are set to be held on Oct. 22, and a general election “may be possible” on that day, a government source said.
While Abe’s scandal-tainted Cabinet has recently plunged in the opinion polls, there seems to be no opposition party at the moment that broadly appeals to voters critical of his administration.
“The consensus view has been that the next general election will be held around autumn next year, following the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election,” said Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi. Komeito is the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling coalition.
“But we won’t stick to that date and will remain ready for battle anytime,” he added.
A senior member of the Democratic Party, the main opposition force, said it would be “no surprise” if a snap election is called on Oct. 22.
“Next year, the prime minister is likely to feel pressured to do it,” the politician said.
The next Lower House election has to take place before the term for current members expires in December 2018. The LDP leadership election is slated for September 2018.
However, an early general election could result in the LDP losing 50 to 60 more seats, said an executive of the LDP’s Election Strategy Headquarters.
“The Abe administration would come to an end” in that case, the politician said.
An early election could cause the pro-amendment camp to lose its two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the Diet, sinking Abe’s long-cherished goal of rewriting the postwar Constitution, which has never been altered since it took force in 1947.
Abe was initially expected to simultaneously call a snap election and a national referendum on constitutional amendments in autumn 2018, on the assumption that an amendment proposal passes the Diet by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers during an ordinary session.
This plan has apparently been derailed by the plunge in his Cabinet’s popularity.
Within the government, there is the view that Abe will decide on the date of the next Lower House election after seeing the outcome of the Oct. 22 by-elections.