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Political parties start preparations for snap election

The National Diet Building is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

Ruling and opposition parties have begun full-scale preparations for an upcoming general election as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to dissolve the House of Representatives as early as at the outset of an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Sept. 28.

Opposition parties have criticized Abe for his decision. "The prime minister said he'll provide a detailed explanation (over favoritism scandals involving himself). Was it a lie?" said Kazunori Yamanoi, second-in-command in the Diet Affairs Committee of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP).

On the morning of Sept. 19, the government held its first Cabinet meeting since it came to light that the prime minister intends to dissolve the lower house at an early date. Ministers appeared bewildered by the decision as Prime Minister Abe has emphasized that the Cabinet he reshuffled on Aug. 3 is a "Cabinet comprised of professionals."

A Cabinet member said, "Regardless, I'll try to keep calm."

When asked whether the reshuffled Cabinet has made any achievements, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami told a news conference, "The Cabinet will continue its efforts to respond to public mandate."

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda declined to comment on the early dissolution of the lower chamber. "I have no comment since the prime minister is solely authorized to dissolve the chamber," she told a news conference on Sept. 19.

Hiroshi Kajiyama, minister for regional revitalization, said, "Although our work has yet to produce results, we'll fulfill the duties we now face."

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera stressed that his ministry will continue to thoroughly respond to the North Korean situation. "The three top officials in the ministry (who are legislators) will ask local voters in their respective constituencies and support groups to understand the situation and work hard (in the ministry)," he said.

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), told a party executive meeting on Sept. 19 that he was told by Abe, "I'll decide on the timing of the dissolution after coming back from the U.N. General Assembly meeting."

Fumio Kishida, chairman of the LDP's Policy Research Council, told the same meeting, "We must begin preparations to draw up campaign pledges."

Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, also considered how to respond to the situation at an executive panel meeting on the same day.

"I've constantly said we (lower house members) must prepare ourselves as if we were always in a battlefield. We'll start considering how to respond to the situation," said Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi.

Prime Minister Abe, who is in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly session, will make a final decision on the lower chamber dissolution after coming home on Sept. 22. He and the ruling coalition are considering kicking off the campaign period on Oct. 10 for an Oct. 22 election day.

The DP held the first meeting of the "Next Cabinet," the DP's shadow Cabinet, since former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara became its president, and began efforts to draw up campaign pledges. The party will speed up its process of cooperating with two other opposition parties -- the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party -- in the election.

Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii will attend a rally on the evening of Sept. 19 to mark the second anniversary of the enactment of security legislation, which opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited way. At the rally, Shii will deliver a speech underscoring the need for opposition parties to cooperate in the upcoming general election in an effort to defeat the LDP-Komeito coalition.

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