In the face of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases nationwide, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is highly unlikely to dissolve the House of Representatives in January, according to informed sources.
Suga believes that his administration should now focus on measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic and revive an economy battered by the crisis, the sources in the government and ruling coalition said.
Based on that belief, the government and the ruling camp are considering convening next year’s ordinary session of the Diet in mid-January, possibly on Jan. 18, to secure enough time for drawing up the government’s budget for fiscal 2021, which starts in April.
With the number of new COVID-19 cases increasing, a source close to the government’s panel on coronavirus countermeasures said that the country is in a situation where it has no choice but to limit economic activities.
Suga has said that he would look at experts’ assessments on the infection situation when deciding the timing for any dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election.
Against this background, a source close to Suga said, “The prime minster cannot escape criticism if he breaks up the Lower House under the current circumstances.”
“The prime minister can no longer dissolve the Lower House in January,” a senior official of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party, said.
The current terms for Lower House lawmakers will expire in October next year.
With the Suga administration maintaining a relatively high public support rate since the launch of his Cabinet in September, some LDP officials had expected him to dissolve the Lower House around the onset of next year’s ordinary Diet session, when the government’s third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 is likely to be enacted.
The officials believe that Suga may be grilled by opposition parties over controversial issues related to the state-funded Science Council of Japan and those linked to the government’s past cherry blossom-viewing parties hosted by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, once the Diet starts discussions on the government’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal.
If Suga gives up on a Lower House dissolution in January, the next possible opportunity to break up the all-important lower chamber would be sometime in April to July, after the passage of the fiscal 2021 budget, or in September or October, after the end of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the sources said.
Those time frames are being considered as the Suga government would be able to make progress on coronavirus countermeasures and some of its key policy goals, such as the creation of a digital agency, before the snap election.
In addition to the coronavirus situation, Suga is expected to take into account various events, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election before the Tokyo Games and the expiration in late September next year of his term as LDP president, the sources said.
Initially, some officials of the government and the ruling camp called for convening next year’s ordinary Diet session on Jan. 8 or Jan. 12, earlier than usual, to leave room for a Lower House dissolution by the end of the month.
Now that the Lower House breakup is expected to come in spring or later, a senior LDP official said, “The Diet will not be convened on Jan. 8.” The official added that there is also no need for a Diet session to start on Jan. 12.
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