TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga invited speculation over the timing of the next general election on March 18 when he told reporters that the House of Representatives would not be dissolved next month, but added, "My term ends in September, so I will think about it (an election) within that scope."
Suga's presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) expires on Sept. 30, while lower house lawmakers' terms in office will end on Oct. 21, necessitating an election.
The prime minister is thought to be shooting for another stint as LDP head, and if there is an autumn election, it could come either before or after the party's leadership vote. However, Suga's reference to his term ending in September suggests he may be looking at the earlier option.
Speaking about a potential dissolution of the lower chamber at a March 16 press conference, Suga said, "My term lasts until the autumn, so I'd like to examine the circumstances and think about how to proceed." Furthermore, at a Feb. 4 lower house Budget Committee session, he stated, "It would obviously be pretty bad if I did not (dissolve the chamber) by October."
Meanwhile, LDP Election Strategy Committee Chairman Hakubun Shimomura said during a March 18 speech in Tokyo that the prime minister's planned April visit to the United States "will probably be a plus for the Cabinet's approval ratings. It's indeed possible that that could be the right time (for an election). We don't want to be in a position where we are compelled to dissolve the lower house," suggesting an April election following the prime minister's return from the U.S. is not out of the question.
Shimomura added, "September or October elections are not the only possibilities; the option of holding one on the same day as the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election (July 4) may also be in the back of (Suga's) mind."
During recording of a Tokyo Broadcasting System satellite TV program on March 18, LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama said of a potential April election, "I can't rule it out. There are many factors in play."
(Japanese original by Shuhei Endo and Itsuo Tokubo, Political News Department)