• Kyodo

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Japan will hold a general election on Oct. 31, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday, choosing to go to the polls earlier than speculated in the apparent hope of capitalizing on an initial popularity bump anticipated after taking the top job and the improving COVID-19 situation.

Kishida, who was elected prime minister by the Diet earlier in the day, told a news conference that he will dissolve the Lower House on Oct. 14, the final day of an extraordinary Diet session, setting the stage for election campaigning to start on Oct. 19.

Kishida apparently prefers holding an election, which must be held by late November, soon after the launch of his Cabinet and wants to secure a mandate to proceed with the priority issues of improving the coronavirus response and dragging the pandemic-hit economy out of the doldrums.

Previously two options were floated — voting on Nov. 7, with the start of campaigning on Oct. 26, and voting on Nov. 14, with campaigning kicking off Nov. 2.

The election, which comes as the current four-year term of Lower House members expires on Oct. 21, will be held with Japan free of a COVID-19 state of emergency for the first time since April, as vaccinations have progressed and the infection situation has stabilized.

In fixing the election date, Kishida also took into account the planned marriage on Oct. 26 of Princess Mako and her boyfriend Kei Komuro, sources with knowledge of the prime minister’s thinking said.

Arrangements had been under way for Kishida, a former foreign minister, to make his diplomatic debut as prime minister at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 on Oct. 30 and 31 in Rome, but he will skip the gathering, according to sources familiar with the plan.

Instead, he plans to attend U.N. climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1 and 2 when leaders are scheduled to meet, the sources said.

Opposition parties are concerned about a potential rebound in public support for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after its change of leader.

“(Kishida) is forcing it through but we will take up the challenge,” Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), said of the decision to quickly go the polls.

“He dominated media coverage throughout the (LDP) presidential election and is now attempting to call an election before his true nature will be revealed,” Azumi said.

The opposition party is struggling to differentiate itself from Kishida, who has vowed to prioritize wealth redistribution — a policy advocated by the CDP — so ordinary people can share the benefits of growth.

The ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito hold a majority in the powerful Lower House, and Kishida has said he will aim to maintain that in the upcoming election.

Kishida’s Cabinet lineup reflects his efforts to strike a balance between different LDP factions to ensure a stable government, giving many posts to allies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who remains a power broker in the party.

After the formation of the Cabinet, Kishida is expected to unveil a fresh economic stimulus package worth “several tens of trillions of yen” and seek approval for a post-election supplementary budget for the current fiscal year through March.

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