• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged Sunday to lead Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party to victory in this year’s general election, as speculation swirls over when he will dissolve the House of Representatives.

The comments at the LDP’s annual convention in Tokyo came amid a slight improvement in the approval rating for Suga’s Cabinet, recovering ground lost amid criticism of the government’s COVID-19 response.

“Our party is the only one that can overcome the national crisis of the novel coronavirus and protect the Japanese traditions created by our forebears, and pass on this country to the next generation while valuing diversity and creativity,” the prime minister said.

Suga can call the general election before the current term of Lower House members ends in October. Among factors in deciding the timing are his trip to the United States next month, the July election for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, and the September end of his own term as LDP president.

At the annual convention, which was called off last year due to the coronavirus and was held this year with only around 500 people attending in person compared with the usual 3,000-plus, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai called on party members to “come together and combine our powers to achieve victory.”

In the previous general election in 2017, the LDP won 284 of the 465 Lower House seats with its coalition partner Komeito taking 29. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was a distant second with 55 seats.

Suga asked for support in a by-election in Nagano Prefecture and a do-over election in Hiroshima Prefecture next month for seats in the House of Councilors, which will be closely watched as a bellwether of how the party would fare in the nationwide poll under his leadership.

The approval rating for the Cabinet stood at 42.1% in a Kyodo News poll conducted over the weekend, up from 38.8% last month but still significantly lower than 66.4% when Suga took office last September.

Vowing to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 after the state of emergency covering the Tokyo region ends on Sunday, the prime minister also promised to ensure this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are held safely, saying that “by showing athletes compete, I hope to deliver a message of courage and hope from Japan to the world.”

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