Social security reform is expected to be a key policy for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party if he goes ahead with a reported plan to call a snap Lower House election in late October, according to a senior government official.
The official said the prime minister’s platform will include using some of the revenue from the consumption tax hike, planned for 2019, which will rise to 10 percent from 8 percent, to expand child care support.
As an election campaign promise, Abe reportedly is also considering pledging to boost government spending for education.
“That’s a very important viewpoint, ” LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said when asked about Abe’s reported spending plan. “I’d like the party’s policy affairs council to discuss these ideas and boil down the substance of the policy,” Nikai said.
However, Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters Tuesday that the government must maintain fiscal discipline if it decides to use the revenue from an upcoming sales tax hike for other purposes.
“We have to maintain fiscal discipline, regardless,” he said.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that Abe is thinking of dissolving the Lower House in the extraordinary Diet session that is scheduled to begin Sept. 28.
In view of Abe’s plan, the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, are gearing up for a possible election on the assumption that official campaigning will start Oct. 10 and voting take place Oct. 22. But the schedule may be delayed to have the election day on Oct. 29, in which case campaigning will start Oct. 17.
“I will make a decision after I return” on whether to dissolve the Lower House, Abe told reporters Monday at Tokyo’s Haneda airport before leaving for the United States. He is on a five-day trip to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Hours before his departure, Abe met separately with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi and Nikai to discuss preparations for an election.
The secretaries-general and election strategy committee heads of the LDP and Komeito also met later in the day to consolidate their positions.
At a news conference Tuesday, Nikai confirmed that Abe plans to dissolve the Diet and call a snap election very soon.
“The date (of an election) hasn’t been decided yet, but it’s true it is imminent as has been already reported by newspapers and other media,” Nikai told reporters after a meeting of LDP executives.
Other possible policy issues in the election will be constitutional revision.
In May, Abe suddenly proposed that the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan’s postwar Constitution should be revised to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.
But, asked if the LDP will try to officially endorse Abe’s proposal and make it one of key election campaign pledges, Nikai said “No.”
“I don’t think we need to rush,” he added.
Abe is apparently leaning toward gambling on an early election as approval ratings for his Cabinet are recovering after a series of scandals involving ministers, including cronyism allegations leveled at the prime minister himself.
The main opposition Democratic Party is also regarded as somewhat weakened following the departure of several of its lawmakers.
The opposition camp was quick to criticize Abe’s planned move, with DP leader Seiji Maehara telling reporters that Abe is simply “fleeing from (the cronyism) accusations.”
He was referring to the grilling Abe will face in the Diet over allegations of corruption surrounding the approval of a new veterinary university department and the discount purchase of public land for an elementary school.
Maehara also took issue with how similar Abe’s policies are to his. He had proposed using the tax hike to fund free education.
Abe last dissolved the Lower House in November 2014 and subsequently led the ruling coalition to a sweeping victory.