• Kyodo, REUTERS

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Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso hinted Sunday that a snap election could come “soon” in the latest remarks from a Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight pointing to a possible poll.

Aso, who serves concurrently as finance minister said in a speech in Niigata Prefecture that the next administration would likely face criticism for being formed without a public mandate.

“If so, I feel like (the new prime minister) is going to dissolve the Lower House,” said Aso, whose faction — one of the LDP’s largest — has endorsed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in the presidential race.

Aso said he decided to back Suga because he thought Suga “outweighs (other candidates) in times of emergency,” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aso, a former prime minister himself, stressed that the timing on when to call elections is “very important.” He explained that when he became leader in September 2008, he wanted to dissolve the Diet quickly but couldn’t due to the global financial crisis.

Aso’s comments came after Defense Minister Taro Kono, a member of Aso’s faction, said last week that he expects a general election in October.

Suga, the front-runner to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Sunday declined to say whether he would dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election upon becoming leader.

“What the people want the most is to keep a balance between preventing further infections of the novel coronavirus and promoting economic activities,” Suga said when asked about a poll a day before he is expected to be elected president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Abe is stepping down for health reasons.

Suga was speaking on an NHK program along with his two rivals in the LDP leadership race — Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister and vocal critic of Abe, and Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister and currently the LDP’s policy chief.

The new LDP president will be chosen as the next prime minister at an extraordinary Diet session Wednesday, given the party’s dominance in the powerful Lower House. The new LDP leader is entitled to serve the remainder of Abe’s term as party leader through September next year.

But speculation has lingered that the next prime minister may quickly call a Lower House election to capitalize on a possible popularity boost that tends to follow a change in leadership. A general election must be held by late October next year, when the current four-year term for Lower House lawmakers ends.

Still, the idea of a snap election is facing opposition from the ruling coalition’s junior partner, Komeito.

“The top priority is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. People want to get back to business and return to work, and I don’t believe they want a power vacuum of a month or two that would result from calling an election,” Natsuo Yamaguchi said.

Komeito, backed by Japan’s largest Buddhist lay group, provides crucial election support to the ruling party by encouraging its members to campaign for LDP candidates. Without its backing, the next LDP leader is unlikely to dissolve the assembly.

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