• Jiji


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise decision to call a general election earlier than widely expected as he hopes to face the verdict of voters before “losing his freshness,” according to people close to him.

The election for the House of Representatives, the powerful lower chamber of the Diet, will be held on Oct. 31, or 27 days after Kishida took office, the shortest such interval in the post-World War II period.

Kishida was initially looking at early November or mid-November for the election.

His change of mind was prompted by a suggestion from Takaya Imai, special adviser to the Cabinet and a close aide to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an informed source said.

Kishida decided to bring forward the election schedule on the eve of his inauguration as prime minister on Oct. 4, according to the source.

Imai had advised Kishida that holding a sudden election would be of advantage to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the source said. Imai had served as executive secretary to the prime minister under Abe’s second government launched in December 2012.

Few in the political arena had considered Oct. 31 a candidate date for the election, in view of the time needed for local governments to make preparations.

Imai has maintained a certain relationship with Kishida since the time of the Abe government and is believed to have been involved in the formulation of Kishida’s policy proposals for the LDP presidential election last month.

Abe dissolved the Lower House for an election twice, in 2014 and 2017, both in pre-emptive moves. In 2014, Abe took the offensive before the Democratic Party of Japan, then the top opposition force, drew up a list of candidates, while in 2017, he countered efforts by politicians close to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to set up a new national political party.

The situation this time is similar in that opposition parties are behind the curve in girding themselves for the Lower House election.

In the first media opinion polls since Kishida became prime minister, public approval ratings for his Cabinet stood at lower-than-expected levels of around 50%, forcing the prime minister to try to demonstrate he is not of the typical mold.

Some in the LDP praise the prime minister’s decision to move up the election schedule. “We’d have been in trouble if the election had been set a week later,” a middle-ranking party member said.

Before dissolving the Lower House on Thursday, Kishida rejected opposition parties’ demands for budget committee deliberations on major issues, including money scandals that have implicated politicians and how his government plans to strike a balance between measures against the novel coronavirus crisis and efforts to shore up the economy.

Less than a month into office, he will face public judgment without in-depth debates on these contentious issues.

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