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It looks like 2000 will be a year of politics in the world and in Japan as well. In the United States and Russia, there will be presidential elections; in Japan, the Lower House will be dissolved for a snap election before its sitting members complete their four-year terms in October.

It is up to Japanese voters to decide whether the administration of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi should continue to rule Japan and whether the present coalition rule should continue. Voter judgment will have an important influence on Japan’s course in the 21st century.

Political pundits have failed to make definite predictions on the timing of the inevitable Lower House dissolution.

A popular theory, which I mentioned in a column last year, was that the chamber would be dissolved in February after the ordinary Diet session opens, or in April after the Diet passes a fiscal 2000 government budget and a series of economic-stimulus packages. Another speculation was that Obuchi would prefer to dissolve the Lower House after Japan successfully holds the scheduled Group of Eight summit in July.

Now the most widely held prediction seems to be that Obuchi will wait until the summer or autumn to take advantage of stronger economic recovery. Another speculation is that dissolution is most likely immediately before the Lower House members complete their terms, but this goes against Obuchi’s strategy of selecting the most opportune time for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

I have heard other theories:

* There is speculation that the idea that dissolution will be delayed until the autumn is the result of disinformation from aides to the prime minister and LDP officials to confuse the opposition. The schemes were developed after media surveys predicted serious setbacks for the LDP and its coalition partners in the election.

* Obuchi earlier wished to dissolve the chamber in February after the ordinary Diet session opens. However, most media surveys, forecasting a devastating election loss for the LDP, raised concern that the Obuchi administration could be forced out of power if the election was held early. The administration should now aim to make the G8 summit a success and take advantage of the success to win the election.

* Ichiro Ozawa, chief of the Liberal Party, repeatedly threatened to leave the three-party coalition over policy differences with the LDP, but his bluffs failed. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, Obuchi’s top aide, had little trouble in his strategy of isolating Ozawa, who critics say is a cancer growing on the coalition as a result of his dictatorial political style. The LDP, which originally formed an alliance with the LP to establish a majority in the Upper House, later accepted New Komeito into the fold to consolidate the coalition’s power. Now the LDP would have a comfortable majority in the Diet without the LP, and should consider joining forces with some LP members, excluding Ozawa and his supporters.

* LDP conservatives such as former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone have proposed to merge with LP members under Ozawa to establish a conservative group. This proposal should be considered in connection with LDP-LP cooperation in the election.

In the election, the LDP is likely to be strong in single-seat district polls. Contrary to media reports, I do not expect the ruling coalition to suffer a serious election setback, if the LDP and New Komeito successfully combine forces. But there is no denying that voter judgment will be severe against Obuchi’s coalition government, which will do anything and everything to cling to power.

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