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Speculation grows that PM Abe set to dissolve lower house for summer double election

In this March 1, 2019 file photo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, bows after the fiscal 2019 budget draft is approved at the House of Representatives Budget Committee. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Speculation is growing within Japan's ruling and opposition camps that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may dissolve the House of Representatives to call a general election to coincide with the summer House of Councillors race.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks at a House of Representatives special committee on the North Korean abduction issue on May 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga clearly said at a May 17 news conference that if opposition parties submit a no-confidence motion against the Abe Cabinet to the lower chamber, it could lead to the dissolution of the powerful chamber.

He apparently warned the opposition camp against introducing such a motion. However the remark, made by a key member of the Cabinet, is likely to cause wide political repercussions.

Suga's remarks came as high-ranking members of ruling and opposition parties have also pointed to the possibility of a double election, which is likely to happen if the prime minister dissolves the lower house shortly before the June 26 end of the ongoing regular Diet session.

An upper chamber election is held every tree years, with half of its 242 seats up for grabs each time. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secured 65 seats in the 2013 upper house election, which LDP Election Strategy Committee chairman Akira Amari describes as "a figure that we cannot surpass."

A focal point is how the LDP will minimize its losses. If a double election is held, lower house candidates will also campaign, causing a possible synergistic effect with upper chamber candidates.

The opposition camp is not sufficiently prepared for an early lower house election, as they have yet to decide on fielding joint candidates to present a united front. Abe Cabinet's approval ratings remain high, and the celebratory mood surrounding the start of the Reiwa era continues to build. These factors are behind the growing view that the prime minister will call a double election.

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told a May 13 press conference that the party is "always prepared" for simultaneous elections for the lower and upper chambers. Hakubun Shimomura, chairman of the LDP Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, suggested that he shares this view.

"There are some people who said we should 'accept the challenge' if the opposition bloc submits a no-confidence motion against the Abe Cabinet," he told reporters at the party headquarters on May 16.

With regard to the possibility of calling a double election to ask the public if they support constitutional revision, Shimomura said, "There are a growing number of people who have mentioned this recently."

A summit meeting of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations and regions is scheduled for June 28-29 in Osaka, shortly after the current Diet session ends.

Some legislators have begun election preparations believing that Abe will extend the Diet session a little bit to demonstrate diplomatic achievements in the G-20 summit to the legislature, then dissolve the lower house to hold a double election on Aug. 4.

"We are taking action on the assumption that a double election is coming," said one of those who were present at a meeting of LDP prefectural chapter policy chiefs.

Meanwhile, an individual linked to the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, which opposes a double poll, said, "A no-confidence motion can be a reason for dissolving the chamber, but it's questionable if it can be a cause that appeals to the public. I suppose Mr. Suga says things like that because the prime minister has no intention of dissolving the lower house."

In the meantime, opposition parties are poised to speed up moves to field joint candidates mainly in lower chamber single-seat constituencies.

Since late April, main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) leader Yukio Edano has met with his counterparts in the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and agreed to begin talks on forming a united opposition front.

JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii expressed confidence on forming a united front, saying, "Once the chamber is dissolved, we'll immediately reach an agreement."

However, DPFP heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa expressed a sense of crisis during a BS-TBS television program appearance. "If a double election is called, the opposition parties will suffer a crushing defeat," he said.

(Japanese original by Kei Sato, Katsuya Takahashi, Minami Nomaguchi and Itsuo Tokubo, Political News Department)

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