Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is unlikely to dissolve the House of Representatives in early September for a general election, as previously expected, as it would coincide with the extended COVID-19 state of emergency, ruling coalition sources have said.
Suga’s earlier strategy had been to vaccinate the population against COVID-19 as quickly as possible, stage a successful Olympic Games to boost public sentiment and then dissolve the more powerful chamber of the Diet for a general election after the Tokyo Paralympics close on Sept. 5.
But with a resurgence of infections showing no signs of abating, the government on Tuesday decided to add seven prefectures to the emergency declaration, and extend the deadline for Tokyo and other areas already under the declaration to Sept. 12.
Some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have suggested holding the election after the party’s presidential vote, which is set to be conducted around Sept. 30 when Suga’s term as LDP leader ends, the sources said Tuesday.
It is also possible that Suga will choose not to dissolve the Lower House and instead let the four-year term of its members end on Oct. 21, they said.
“Options for the timing of the general election are narrowing,” Suga said in a news conference Tuesday while announcing the expanded COVID-19 emergency.
Several senior administration officials have said that Suga will not dissolve the Lower House while a state of emergency is still in place.
The scenario now seen as most likely within the LDP is for general election campaigning to begin on Sept. 17, with voting on Sept. 29.
Suga had envisioned dissolving the Lower House, securing victory for the LDP in the general election and winning the LDP leadership race unchallenged.
But Sanae Takaichi, a former internal affairs minister, has said she intends to run in the LDP presidential race.
Those arguing that the party leadership race should be held first include LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura. Another veteran lawmaker said that Suga would not dare dissolve the Lower House amid his record low approval rating.
When a prime minister has no plan to dissolve the Lower House before its members’ term expires, an election needs to be held within the 30 days before the expiry date under the public election law. If the expiration of the term comes during or soon after a Diet session, an election must be held within 24 to 30 days after the session closes.
Given that an election is typically held on a Sunday, possible polling dates would be Sept. 26 at the earliest and Nov. 14 at the latest.
If the Lower House is dissolved, an election must be held within 40 days of the dissolution. The chamber’s dissolution on the last day of the current four-year term, on Oct. 21, could push back the election to Nov. 28 at the latest.
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