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Abe gov't won't hold double election while concerns linger over election prospects

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens to questions from a legislator during a session of the House of Councillors Committee on Audit on June 10, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided June 14 to abandon dissolving the House of Representatives for a snap general election to coincide with the summer House of Councillors election, multiple senior members of the ruling bloc said.

The ruling camp has recently been thrown on the defensive as it has come under fire over its handling of policy measures, but the Abe administration deemed that there is a high chance of winning the upper house election without calling a double election because the approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet remain at high levels.

Campaigning for the upper house election is expected to kick off on July 4 with an election date of July 21.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and leader of an intraparty faction of which Abe is a member, told a party meeting on the night of June 14 that the party can concentrate on the upper house race.

"The lower house will unlikely be dissolved. We'll work hard on the upper house election," he said.

Another senior member of the LDP clearly ruled out the possibility of dissolving the lower chamber and said, "If a double election were to be called and we were to decrease our strength in both houses, it would deal a serious blow (to the administration)."

The governing coalition comprising the LDP and Komeito has a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber, a prerequisite for initiating constitutional revisions that Abe has his sights set upon. The LDP aspires to hold full-scale debate on constitutional amendment after the upper house poll while maintaining its strength in the lower chamber.

While the ruling bloc is hopeful of a solid performance in the upper house race, a series of problems involving the government's responses to policy measures have recently cast a shadow over the LDP's prospects in the election.

A Financial Service Agency working group estimated that an average elderly couple would need to secure at least 20 million yen worth of financial assets to fund their 30-year post-retirement lives besides public pension benefits, stirring controversy and attacks on the government from the opposition camp.

Furthermore, serious errors were discovered in the Defense Ministry's survey report on candidate sites for the deployment of the Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor system, due to reliance on Google Earth in examining those sites.

Moreover, a questionable link between a private-sector member of a working group that evaluates and selects regulatory reform proposals for the government's national strategic special zones and a school operator that was then considering submitting a proposal have emerged.

As the government has been thrown on the defensive over these issues, concerns remain within the governing bloc about how the parties would fare in a double election.

Prime Minister Abe returned to Japan on the morning of June 14 after visiting Iran. He strove to ease tensions between the United States and Iran during his visit, but failed to secure a clue on how to facilitate dialogue between Washington and Tehran. During his visit to Iran, two tankers including one operated by a Japanese shipping company were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz.

Furthermore, Japans' talks with Russia on a peace treaty, and efforts to resolve the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea have been stalled.

Under the circumstances, it is difficult for the prime minister to show diplomatic achievements before the upper house election.

Prime Minister Abe will host the Group of 20 summit of major countries and regions in Osaka on June 28 and 29 before the campaigning for the upper house poll.

(Japanese original by Takenori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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