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Editorial: Abe should prioritize implementing policy measures over election

Speculation is growing in the Diet that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may dissolve the House of Representatives at the outset of a regular Diet session that convenes in January 2017 to call a snap general election, even though Abe has denied the observations.

However, those spreading such rumors believe such an early election would benefit the ruling coalition. There is no particular cause for which the prime minister should call a general election. It would be problematic if legislators from ruling and opposition parties were to be distracted by such rumors and could not concentrate on deliberations during the ongoing extraordinary Diet session.

Rumors that Abe may dissolve the lower house in January, which have been lingering for months, have become more prevalent after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) fixed the date of the regular party convention, which is usually held in January, for March 5 next year.

The ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority in both chambers of the Diet. Moreover, the four-year term of lower house members, who were elected in December 2014, will remain for two more years from January 2017.

"Prime Minister Abe's term as president of the LDP ends in autumn 2018, but the party is now exploring the possibility of extending the term. If the prime minister were to call a general election and win it, his term would certainly be extended," one LDP member said.

"Renho has become leader of the Democratic Party (DP), but the approval rating for the party has not improved much. An early election is favorable to us, considering that the economic outlook remains unclear," another LDP member stated.

"If progress were to be made on the issue of the Northern Territories at a Japan-Russia summit meeting in December, it'd be beneficial to the ruling coalition for an election to be called shortly after that. It'd also be favorable to Komeito (the LDP's junior coalition partner), which doesn't want a general election to be held around the same time as next summer's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race," one other LDP insider commented.

At the same time, it cannot be overlooked that some LDP members are calling for an early general election before the demarcation of some single-seat constituencies is changed to rectify the widening disparity in the value of one vote between the most populated electoral districts and the least ones.

Work to change the demarcation in order to reduce the number of single-seat constituencies by six is expected to last until summer next year. A certain period needs to be set to notify the public of the change. The LDP is likely to struggle to adjust its fielding of candidates in affected constituencies. Therefore, some LDP legislators want the next general election to be called before the demarcation is changed.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the three most recent lower house elections, in which the value of one vote in the most sparsely populated constituency was over twice that in the most densely populated electoral district, was "in a state of unconstitutionality." A state of unconstitutionality refers to a situation that is not immediately recognized as unconstitutional but could be deemed as such unless the disparity is rectified within a reasonable timeframe.

It is inappropriate that the legislature has made light of repeated warnings by the top court. The prime minister and other high-ranking LDP members insist that the prime minister's right to dissolve the lower chamber is not restricted even before the demarcation has been changed. However, the prime minister should prioritize the change in the demarcation of some electoral districts to rectify the vote-value disparity over calling an early general election.

Abe made a comeback as LDP president in the autumn of 2012. Since late that year, a Diet election has been held every year except in 2015 when public opinion was split over the security legislation that has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. The prime minister had reportedly considered dissolving the lower house to call a general election simultaneously with the regular upper house election this past summer, but abandoned the idea.

Members of the public have witnessed Prime Minister Abe steer the Diet in a high-handed manner once the ruling coalition won an election, as if to say all his government's policies won public confidence.

It is highly unlikely that the bulk of Japanese voters want the lower house to be dissolved for an early snap election. A majority of members of the public apparently want Prime Minister Abe to concentrate on steadily implementing his administration's policy measures rather than bolstering his own power base.

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