With the virus surging across much of the nation and following a string of by-election defeats for his Liberal Democratic Party, it’s looking more and more likely that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga won’t dissolve the House of Representatives until after the end of the Tokyo Games.
The prime minister now plans to put more of his energy into the fight against COVID-19 and other issues, including diplomatic challenges, with a view toward shoring up public support for his administration toward autumn.
Asked about the LDP’s latest election blunder by reporters last Monday, Suga said, “My government will make all-out efforts so that the second round of coronavirus vaccinations for elderly citizens who want to get inoculations will be completed hopefully by the end of July.” Suga stressed that “our top priority is the fight against the coronavirus,” responding to a question about the timing for dissolving the Lower House.
A senior government official said that it is “utterly impossible” to dissolve the Lower House any time soon, citing the spread of coronavirus variants in Japan.
Echoing the view, a senior LDP member said: “Breaking up the Lower House is not possible at all at a time when we have still been unable to bring the coronavirus under control. We’ll face a fierce backlash if the chamber is dissolved under the current circumstances.”
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which were postponed by one year to this summer, are slated to take place between late July and early August and between late August and early September, respectively.
The terms for Lower House members is set to run until Oct. 21.
Suga is apparently looking at a scenario in which he would dissolve the Lower House after the Paralympics while putting off the LDP’s leadership election, now set for late September, informed sources said.
How much progress will be made in coronavirus vaccinations is a key to the fate of his administration.
On Tuesday, Suga gave instructions for large-scale vaccination venues directly managed by the central government to be set up in Tokyo and Osaka in an effort to accelerate the pace of inoculations in the nation, currently the slowest among the Group of Seven advanced countries.
Through the expected enactment in mid-May of a set of bills for digital reform, a key policy of Suga, and his participation in the G7 summit in Britain in June, the prime minister aims to re-emphasize his administration’s slogan of “working for the public,” the sources said.
An immediate challenge is whether the government can end its coronavirus state of emergency, in place for Tokyo, Osaka and the prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo on May 11 as currently planned.
With infections on the rise elsewhere in the country, there is a possibility the measures will be extended or the scope of areas subject to the state of emergency expanded. Such developments would likely add to public criticism.
Although the central government is trying to lead the inoculation drive, local governments will likely have to take charge of vaccinating most citizens. The planned state-managed large vaccination center in Tokyo will be able to handle hundreds of thousands of people while it is in operation for three months.
A local government leader in the Kyushu region complained: “We have not been informed when vaccines will arrive while facing shortages of doctors and nurses. We are not sure when vaccinations of elderly people will end.”
A Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, set for July 4, is seen as a precursor to the Lower House general election.
The LDP lost the previous 2017 Tokyo assembly poll by a landslide to Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), which was led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike at the time. Koike now serves as special adviser to the Tokyo political party.
There is no easy road for Suga partly because the possibility remains that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics may have to be canceled depending on the coronavirus situation.
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