Calls for an early general election are growing in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga proves popular in public opinion polls.
Recent polls by media outlets have shown high public approval ratings for his administration, launched last week, while support for opposition parties remains low.
There appear to be only limited opportunities for Suga to dissolve the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, before the chamber's members reach the end of their term in October next year.
While it’s not long since Suga received the baton from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he already faces the need to make a big political decision.
"With a nearly full consensus among the LDP's lawmakers, I'd demand an immediate dissolution (if I was an election strategy leader)," LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Hakubun Shimomura told a television program Monday.
But he also said, "It may happen within this year, or possibly next year or later" after the Suga Cabinet delivers results.
Public support for the Suga Cabinet exceeded 60 to 70 percent in the recent polls, higher than the ratings seen when Abe's second administration was launched in December 2012.
The strong results apparently reflect the fact that Suga is not from a political family, unlike many of his predecessors — including Abe.
Other possible reasons include his focus on issues closely related to people's everyday lives, such as plans to lower mobile phone charges and cover infertility treatment with public health insurance.
By contrast, the new Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, created last week through a merger of its predecessor entity and the Democratic Party for the People, has failed to garner much public support.
Against that background, an increasing number of LDP lawmakers want Suga to dissolve the Lower House immediately.
"The Lower House should be dissolved soon," one young LDP lawmaker said. "Now is the time as public support is high in a celebratory mood just after his inauguration."
"The Lower House will be dissolved soon, after the prime minister attends question-and-answer sessions following his policy speech at an extraordinary Diet session to be convened in October," said another party member who once held a ministerial position.
Even a senior official of Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, which is cautious about an early Lower House election, said Suga must be feeling tempted to dissolve the chamber early given the high public support.
The prime minister is set to deliver his first policy speech at the extraordinary Diet session, which is likely to start on Oct. 23 or 26.
During the session, the government and the ruling camp aim to secure Diet approval of Japan's new trade agreement with the U.K. and to enact legislation to provide state compensation for adverse side effects that may be caused by COVID-19 vaccines.
But these measures would not be implemented within this year if the Lower House was dissolved early, a senior LDP official said.
If the Suga Cabinet prioritizes an election over policy measures, it may draw public criticism.
Suga has said he aims to create a Cabinet that works for the people, signaling a cautious stance about an early general election.
According to a source close to Suga, he views the support ratings as too high and is worried about growing calls for a Lower House dissolution.
If he decides not to dissolve the chamber this year, the next possible timing would be the beginning of next year's ordinary Diet session, in January, or in April soon after the expected passage of the fiscal 2021 state budget.
After that, it would be difficult for Suga to dissolve the chamber until the end of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer. Suga would then have little time left until the terms of office for the Lower House members are set to expire.
When Suga was deputy head of the LDP's Election Strategy Committee in 2008, he persuaded then Prime Minister Taro Aso not to dissolve the Lower House soon after his inauguration.
Aso called a Lower House election in 2009 just before the end of the Lower House lawmakers' term. The LDP was ousted from power in a historic election rout.
It was a bitter experience for Suga as well. He is therefore expected to make his decision on a possible Lower House dissolution carefully, while paying close attention to the novel coronavirus situation.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.