National / Politics

Double-election fever starts to dissipate in Japan's political circles

Kyodo

Speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will dissolve the Lower House for a “double election” this summer began to dissipate Monday, as an official close to him said such a move would not be needed when the Cabinet has stable support.

Some had speculated that the prime minister would be tempted to call a snap election to coincide with the triennial election for half of the Upper House, in an apparent bid to boost voter interest and turnout.

There were also expectations that Abe would delay the planned consumption tax hike in October and seek a mandate for his decision.

However, the general view of ruling party lawmakers now seems to be that current economic conditions do not warrant delaying the tax hike. It is now expected that the current regular Diet session through June 26 will not be extended, which paves the way for the House of Councilors’ election to go ahead on July 21 after official campaigning from July 4.

“Cabinet support ratings have been stable and we can secure solid wins even if we only hold the Upper House election,” the senior official within the Abe administration said.

The current six-year terms of half of the Upper House members will expire on July 28. Those Upper House lawmakers completing their terms in July won their seats in the 2013 election, when Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party scored a landslide victory — which has prompted some to wonder if the ruling bloc may struggle to maintain its strength. Some LDP members believe it would be prudent to take advantage of the start of the new Reiwa Era following the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, which created a festive mood in Japan and could be a plus for the ruling coalition between the LDP and Komeito.

But a senior LDP lawmaker said: “Results of our surveys on the outlook for the Upper House election are not bad.”

Abe is expected to make a final decision after he returns on Friday from a two-day trip to Iran. His schedule is tight as he will host a Group of 20 summit in Osaka on June 28 and 29.

Regarding the timing of the Upper House election, Natsuo Yamaguchi, who heads the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, said Sunday during a stump speech that “it will likely be held on July 21.” Komeito has been against the idea of holding a double election.

In a set of election pledges unveiled Friday the LDP placed greater emphasis on foreign policy and defense as one of its “six pillars,” following indications that Japan’s economic growth may be fragile despite the prime minister’s Abenomics policy mix.

Other so-called pillars include a strong economy, reliable society, regional revitalization and disaster relief and prevention. Constitutional reform, a long-held goal of Abe and the LDP, is the sixth pillar.

The LDP said in its election platform that it would aim to go ahead with an increase to the consumption tax rate, from the current 8 percent to 10 percent, in October.

Abe has already postponed the tax hike to 10 percent twice. Another delay is seen as difficult as the government has already decided to allocate part of its expected revenue from the hike to enhancing child care support.

Abe has said the tax hike plan will go ahead barring a shock on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis, which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Although a technical factor in the data played a big part and domestic demand lacked strength, Japan’s economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent in January-March, government data showed Monday.