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Japan’s Abe dissolves lower house; snap election set for Oct. 22

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept 28, 2017. (Kyodo News / Associated Press)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept 28, 2017. (Kyodo News / Associated Press)
Japan News/Yomiuri.

TOKYO – Japan’s House of Representatives was dissolved at the beginning of the extraordinary Diet session convened Thursday.

At an extraordinary Cabinet meeting later the same day, the government officially approved a general election date of Oct. 22, with official campaigning to start on Oct. 10. The upcoming election will take place about two years and 10 months after the previous lower house race in December 2014.

A focal point of the election is likely to be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to change the allocation of the increased revenues from an October 2019 hike in the consumption tax rate from 8 percent to 10 percent. Amendment of the Constitution is also expected to be a key election issue.

The largest opposition Democratic Party has decided to effectively merge into the newly formed Kibo no To (Party of Hope) led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. The Oct. 22 election will likely ask voters to choose between the Abe administration and the opposition forces to lead this country.

The dissolution of the lower house was approved at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Thursday morning. After Abe sought the dissolution, all the Cabinet members signed a document approving it. The Imperial rescript for the dissolution was then signed and sealed by the Emperor. After that, lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima read out the rescript during a plenary session, which began at noon.

At the extraordinary Diet session, the prime minister did not make a policy speech and no question-and-answer session was held by representatives of political parties. A vote on a resolution to protest North Korea’s repeated firings of ballistic missiles and other provocations was also put off.

DP and Japanese Communist Party lawmakers, among others, boycotted the plenary session in a gesture of opposition to the dissolution at the beginning of the Diet session. This is the fourth time since the end of World War II that the lower house was dissolved on the same day an extraordinary Diet session was convened.

Such a dissolution was last made when then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto dissolved the chamber in September 1996.

A total of 465 seats, comprising 289 in single-seat constituencies and 176 in proportional representation blocs, will be up for grabs in the upcoming election. This is the lowest number of lower house seats ever seen in postwar Japan, after it was reduced by 10. To correct vote-value disparities, electoral districts have also been rezoned in 19 prefectures.

Before Thursday’s dissolution, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito held a more than two-thirds majority in the lower house of 317 seats. Referring to the decisive line for victory, Abe has said the ruling camp would aim to secure a simple majority of 233 seats.

At a general meeting of LDP members of both Diet chambers on Thursday afternoon, the prime minister said, “This is an election to seek a mandate on how to protect Japan and how to carve out our children’s future.”

In an apparent reference to a de facto merger of the DP and Kibo no To, Abe said, “We can’t leave the future to parties that get makeovers only for the sake of elections.”

Abe has called this a lower house dissolution for surmounting a national crisis. Besides the change in the use of additional consumption tax revenues and constitutional revisions, he intends to seek a public mandate for the government’s response to North Korea, which has continued nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.

As the opposition camp has criticized that the dissolution would create a political vacuum amid rising tensions over Pyongyang, Abe plans to have Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera stay in Tokyo during the election campaign to manage a possible emergency.

Koike has vowed to realize politics with no constraints. Her party plans to make such campaign pledges as carrying out economic measures to replace the Abenomics policy package and reducing the nation’s nuclear dependence to zero.

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