National / Politics

Will Abe pull snap election to stay in power?

JIJI

After a scandal-dominated extraordinary Diet session closed last Monday, speculation began focusing on when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will use his power to call a snap election to prevent his administration from becoming a lame duck.

Abe became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in terms of total days in office, but his Cabinet’s ratings are falling in the opinion polls, reflecting its latest scandals.

After the session opened on Oct. 4, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Isshu Sugawara and Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai resigned over money scandals.

Then the government was forced to postpone the introduction of private-sector English tests for a new unified university entrance exam system debuting in fiscal 2020 amid concerns about inequalities in test-taking opportunities. The concerns were sparked by education minister Koichi Hagiuda, who said students should compete for entry “in accordance with their (financial) standing,” implying they should compete financially.

Abe himself came under fire over the state-funded annual cherry blossom party, which is held to honor celebrities and other contributors to society but has instead been noted for an increase in Abe campaign supporters in recent years.

As a result, the Diet made little progress on Abe’s quest to revise the Constitution. But it did approve a Japanese-U.S. trade deal.

With the four-year terms of the House of Representatives members set to expire in October 2021, Abe is likely considering a strategy for dissolving the powerful lower chamber for a snap election, observers said.

“If I find that the time has come to seek public judgment, I won’t hesitate to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election,” Abe told a news conference after the extra Diet session closed on Dec. 9.

At an LDP executive meeting earlier that day, Abe, who doubles as president of the party, said: “I’ll continue to work hard, as if I were always in a battlefield.”

His remarks, however, have been met with skepticism within the party, which sees a Lower House breakup most likely after the 2020 Olympics. It seems many LDP lawmakers believe dissolution isn’t that likely to happen so soon, such as after New Year’s.

“Saying a Lower House dissolution is possible anytime is a scare tactic against the opposition camp and a rallying cry for the ruling bloc,” a senior LDP member said Tuesday.

But the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are assuming Abe will dissolve the Lower House early next year.

At a meeting of opposition lawmakers on Dec. 9, CDP President Yukio Edano urged participants to “spend this year-end and the New Year period productively, with a resolve to bring down the administration whenever a general election is held.”

At a CDP executive meeting Tuesday, Edano repeated his call to stay on the alert for a snap election early next year.

Noting the Diet is set to open on Jan. 20, Edano said, “Whether the Lower House is dissolved on the day or on Jan. 31, after the fiscal 2019 supplementary budget is passed, we’ll prepare for February as the month for a general election.”

He also recently called on his colleagues, including the Democratic Party for the People, to consider a merger in order to challenge the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition.

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