Japan’s Abe announces snap poll amid North Korea worries

Move is aimed at taking advantage of improved ratings and opposition disarray

 Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

 

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has announced he will dissolve the lower house of parliament and call a snap election for next month.

Mr Abe said at a news conference that he will dissolve the more powerful house in Japan’s two-chamber parliament on Thursday when it convenes after a three-month summer recess.

The election is due to be held October 22nd.

Support ratings for Mr Abe’s government have begun to rebound as attacks on its cronyism scandals have faded during parliament’s recess, while opposition parties are regrouping. Opposition MPs said there is no need to hold elections now.

Mr Abe, whose ratings have risen to about 50 per cent from 30 per cent in July, is gambling his ruling coalition can keep its lower house majority even if it loses the two-thirds “super majority” needed to achieve his long-held goal of revising the post-war pacifist constitution to clarify the military’s role.

A weekend survey by the Nikkei business daily survey showed 44 per cent of voters planned to vote for Mr Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) versus 8 per cent for the main opposition Democratic Party and another 8 per cent for a new party launched by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

The Nikkei poll was far more positive for Abe’s prospects that a Kyodo news agency survey that showed his LDP garnering 27.7 per cent support, with 42.2 per cent undecided.

Mr Abe’s image as a strong leader has bolstered his ratings amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programmes and overshadowed opposition criticism of the premier for suspected cronyism scandals that had eroded his support.

Some critics say that Mr Abe has risked creating a political vacuum at a time when geo-political tensions over North Korea are rising.

And, given the unexpected results seen in other major developed countries, political analysts are not ruling a “nasty surprise” for the Japanese leader.

“Abe’s big gamble could yield a big surprise,” veteran independent political analysts Minoru Morita said.

‘Political vaccuum’

Mr Abe told LDP executives at a meeting on Monday that he intended to dissolve the lower house on Thursday. The prime minister had been expected to face a grilling over the cronyism scandals during Thursday’s session, and opposition party officials saw the move as play to avoid difficult questions.

Sources have said Mr Abe’s election platform will see him promise to go ahead with a planned rise in the national sales tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in 2019 but increase the proportion of revenue spent on child care and education, delaying a target of putting the budget in the black in the fiscal year ending March 2021.

Abe on Monday asked his cabinet to compile a 2 trillion yen ($17.80 billion) economic package by the year-end to focus on child care, education and encouraging corporate investment, while maintaining fiscal discipline.

The main opposition Democratic Party is struggling with single-digit ratings and much depends on whether it can cooperate with liberal opposition groups.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced on Monday that she would lead a new conservative, reform-minded “Party of Hope” to provide voters with an alternative to the LDP.

“Our ideal is to proceed free of special interests,” Ms Koike, a former LDP member, told a news conference.

Reuters