Japan's ruling and opposition parties are gearing up for upcoming elections, after this year's ordinary session of the Diet, the country's parliament, ended on Wednesday.
After the end of the 150-day session, the COVID-19 pandemic will remain a dominant issue in politics. The ruling coalition has rejected an opposition demand for an extension of the regular session to ensure a seamless response to the pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen putting his full efforts into the fight against the coronavirus, ahead of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 4 and the next election for the House of Representatives, expected to be held as early as in September.
The Suga administration is accelerating work to finish COVID-19 vaccinations in the country by October-November. "We'll work to prevent infections by implementing measures on an area-by-area basis and promoting vaccinations," he told reporters on Wednesday.
Suga is believed to be planning to dissolve the Lower House for a general election after successfully holding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics from July 23 to Sept. 5. He apparently aims to secure re-election as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to stay in power. His current term as LDP president is set to expire at the end of September.
With the LDP already in election mode, its secretary-general, Toshihiro Nikai, attended a ceremony at the party headquarters in Tokyo on Wednesday to mark the delivery of a vehicle to be used during its election campaign.
"This campaign car will travel across the country, and I expect our opponents will feel unable to win once they see the car," Nikai said at the ceremony.
Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, emphasizes the looming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly poll.
"We are likely to face a very tough battle in the metropolitan assembly race," Komeito's Diet affairs chief, Yosuke Takagi, said at a meeting of the party's lawmakers. "We definitely cannot lose to opposition parties that are busy making theatrical moves."
Meanwhile, Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, declared before the party's lawmakers on the day, "The Lower House race has kicked off."
Edano reiterated the party's aim of achieving regime change. "I want our party's Lower House members to stay in their respective constituencies until the next Diet session is convened," he said.
"I myself will travel across the country, with no time for returning to Tokyo."
For the CDP, one urgent task is to make arrangements on candidates with other opposition parties.
"This summer is crucial," Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii told his party colleagues on the day. "We'll make all-out efforts to advance."
But it appears difficult for opposition parties to maintain presence after the Diet session ends. "We'll lose opportunities to attack the government," a senior CDP member said.
CDP Diet affairs chief Jun Azumi, at a meeting with his LDP counterpart, Hiroshi Moriyama, on Wednesday, made a request for Diet committees related to the pandemic to hold off-session meetings. Moriyama, however, did not give a clear answer.
"At least, we don't need to accept a demand (for these committees) to meet regularly," an LDP executive said.
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