Ruling party members now believe that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is even less likely to call a general election in the near future after the arrest of a former state minister for alleged bribery.
The House of Representatives “won’t be dissolved for a snap election for the time being,” a senior member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said Thursday, a day after Lower House member Tsukasa Akimoto was apprehended. Akimoto left the LDP after his arrest.
The arrest of Akimoto came as an additional blow to the Abe Cabinet, whose approval ratings are falling amid mounting doubts about an annual publicly funded cherry blossom-viewing party that has been attended by many supporters of the prime minister.
The party scandal seems to have already diminished the possibility of Abe breaking up the Lower House at the beginning of an ordinary Diet session that is expected to be convened in January.
LDP lawmakers are worried that public prosecutors could expand their investigation on the corruption case.
On the same day of Akimoto’s arrest, prosecutors searched buildings linked to another LDP lawmaker, Takaki Shirasuka, and former LDP lawmaker Shigeaki Katsunuma.
Amid the unfolding scandal, the prime minister “absolutely cannot dissolve the Lower House now,” an LDP source said.
If Akimoto resigns as a Lower House member, a by-election would be held in his constituency in Tokyo as early as next April.
But many in the LDP believe he will not give up his Lower House seat. “His resignation could be taken as his admission of wrongdoing,” a party executive said. “He’s likely to remain a lawmaker until the Lower House is dissolved.”
Still, the opposition camp continues to speculate that Abe could call an early poll for the Lower House in a bid to push the scandals away with an election win.
“As of today, we remain ready to face a possible general election in February,” Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told a news conference Thursday.
With Thursday marking the seventh anniversary since Abe’s return to power, the prime minister has stressed that he will work hard without forgetting the spirit he had from the time he started out.
“This is the seventh anniversary of Abenomics,” he said Thursday at a meeting of Keidanren, or the Japan Business Federation. He boasted of the achievements of his signature economic policy.
Abe has struggled to bring an end to deflation, with the Bank of Japan yet to achieve its 2 percent inflation goal, though the Abenomics policy improved the employment situation.
In a speech in Tokyo, BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said the central bank “will continue to firmly fulfill its responsibility … of achieving the price stability target so that Japan’s economy will grow in a sustainable manner.”