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Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party believe that it may be better for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to wait until the terms of all Lower House lawmakers expire in October rather than dissolve the House of Representatives for an election.

If Suga dissolves the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, he may be accused of giving priority to politics over the fight against the coronavirus crisis.

On the other hand, if the next general election is held in line with the end of the Lower House lawmakers’ term, Suga will be able to highlight his antivirus drive by saying he has not let up in efforts to contain infections, the LDP members say.

It would be only the second time since World War II for a Lower House election to be called due to the expiration of the incumbents’ terms.

Still, the dominant view within the LDP is that Suga is likely to dissolve the Lower House soon after the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games end on Sept. 5 so that an election is in October.

At a news conference in October last year, Suga suggested that he is looking to call an election before his term as president of the LDP expires at the end of September.

But with lawmakers’ terms expiring on Oct. 21, some in the LDP speculate that the prime minister may wait until then for an election.

Under the public offices election law, a Lower House election is held after the chamber is dissolved or when the term of the members of the chamber expires.

Past prime ministers — with the exception of Takeo Miki in 1976 — have chosen what they saw as the best timing to dissolve the Lower House, rather than be cornered by the expiration of the terms. Miki had to step down after the LDP suffered a severe setback at the polls.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference last month. | AFP-JIJI
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference last month. | AFP-JIJI

This time, the pandemic makes it difficult for the prime minister to pick a good time for a general election.

If Suga waits until terms expire without dissolving the Lower House, “he will be able to tout his decision to prioritize measures against the coronavirus, instead of choosing a favorable time for an election,” said a middle-ranking member of the LDP’s largest faction, led by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

“Either a dissolution or the term expiration will do. It’s within the margin of error,” one former Cabinet minister said.

The public offices election law says a general election needs to be held within 30 days of the expiration of the term of the Lower House lawmakers.

This means that an election could be held on Sept. 26, Oct. 3, Oct. 10 or Oct. 17.

Suga himself has not ruled out the possibility of an election based on the expiration of lawmakers’ terms.

In a parliamentary debate with opposition party leaders on June 9, when Toranosuke Katayama, co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), asked Suga if he is considering the option of not dissolving the Lower House, the prime minister only said that his current top priority is working on measures against the coronavirus.

If Suga opts to dissolve the Lower House, he could delay the ensuing election until Nov. 28, according to the law.

Even if he chooses not to disband the Lower House and tries to sell voters on his focus on antivirus efforts, it is uncertain whether the strategy would work.

Suga is expected to draw up his election strategy by closely watching the trend of public opinion.

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