Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially dissolved Parliament on Thursday, the day it reconvened for session. Speaker Tadamori Oshima read aloud the resolution from Abe in the lower house which was followed by members raising their arms and shouting “Banzai”, or three cheers, thrice. The dissolution of the 475-seat lower house comes more than a year before necessitated by law. The upper house, which is “closed”, will reconvene only after the election, scheduled on October 22 this year.
In a speech to the House, following its dissolution, Abe said he is seeking public mandate on his defence policies, following threats from North Korea. Some Opposition members boycotted the session on Thursday, in protest against the snap polls and the possible political vacuum at a time when tensions with North Korea are high.
Why is Japan heading for polls early?
The four-year term of the House ends only in December 2018. However, Abe’s move to call for early elections is seen as a bid to strengthen his position in the House and ensure his term is extending for another three years. According to Associated Press, Abe’s support rating dropped 30 per cent earlier this year following a string of scandals and missteps including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal. Now, having rebounded to the 50 per cent range, partly due to his policy on North Korea that includes pushing for sanctions against that country as well as carrying out joint military operations with the United States.
Secondly, with Parliament not in session, Abe is not in the line of fire from Opposition members and does not need to engage in public debate.
Who is in the race?
Abe’s ruling party, the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) is hoping to gain a simple majority in the house; it currently holds a two-third “super majority”. Abe is seeking public mandate on his strategy against North Korea as well as his proposal on a hike in consumption tax, which will be used on education and childcare. “This will be a tough battle, but it’s all about how we will protect Japan, and the lives and peaceful existence of the Japanese people,” Abe was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The main Opposition party, the Democratic Party has seen several defections recently and is struggling with single-digit ratings. Further, the party has been left unprepared following its leader resignation in July this year.
The Party of Hope, a new Democratic Party launched by Tokyo Governor and former LDP member Yuriko Koike on Wednesday, is gaining support, including from some renegade lawmakers from the main Opposition party. The “tolerant, conservative reform party,” aims to break free of vested interests, protect the public, spend tax money wisely and respect diversity, reported Reuters. Ending speculation, Koike, formerly a defence minister, said she would not run for prime ministership herself. “I’m someone who is always ready to take action,” she was however quoted as saying Reuters.
While some reports suggest the Party of Hope may form an alliance with the Democrats, Koike may opt to ally with the LDP, given the similarities in policies, according to Reuters.
(With inputs from agencies)