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PM Abe looking to his own convenience with snap election move

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's move to call a snap general election for October appears grounded solely in promoting the interests of his ruling coalition, still reeling from favoritism scandals and with Cabinet approval ratings just starting to recover.

"When we think of the extraordinary Diet session (to be convened on Sept. 28), there's nothing good for us," one government insider grouched in late August.

Opposition parties are eager to rake the Abe government over the coals for his cronyism scandals involving two school operators -- Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen and Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution, the latter headed by a longtime confidant. The scandals had triggered a plunge in public support for the Abe Cabinet by the close of the regular Diet session in June, and the prime minister still appears far from vindicating himself.

If the government submits bills related to work-style reform and integrated resorts including casinos during the extraordinary session, they will instantly become a subject of controversy between ruling and opposition parties. Even if those bills were rammed through the Diet, the prime minister would find it difficult to dissolve the lower house amid criticism that such legislation will promote zero overtime pay and legalize gambling.

The prime minister may well have surmised that the best timing for dissolving the lower house would be at the outset of the extraordinary session. After all, this would trigger a general election before Cabinet approval ratings started sagging again, and the largest opposition Democratic Party and a nascent opposition party could get ready.

Such a scenario -- one that prioritizes the interests of his Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito -- had once seemed a longshot after North Korea's latest nuclear test and missile launches.

The Abe administration has stepped up pressure on North Korea both diplomatically and militarily in conjunction with the United States. As the North's provocations are also directed at Japan and concerns remain over potential contingencies, the Abe administration must avoid creating any political vacuum by giving its all to a nationwide election.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Abe is set to disband the lower chamber late this month. He apparently aims to appeal to the public for the need to establish a stable government base, all the more because of the growing regional tension.

However, the rationale for creating an unnecessary political vacuum at a time when the ruling coalition already enjoys a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber is far from convincing. There can hardly be any cause for dissolving the lower house before any deliberations on the favoritism scandals and other issues, after the ruling coalition kept shrugging off opposition demands to convene the extraordinary session much earlier based on the Constitution.

For Abe, the upcoming Diet session would only do him harm -- opposition grilling over the Moritomo and Kake scandals would push Cabinet approval ratings down again, while his cherished goal of overhauling the pacifist Constitution has no immediate prospects of progressing due to Komeito resistance.

"Why not reset everything then?" he might think. Tensions over North Korea would work wonders for the ruling coalition if they were made the focal point of the general election campaign. If that is what the prime minister assumes, then his move for an early lower house dissolution serves no interests but his own. (By Takahiro Hirata, Senior Writer, Political News Department)

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