TOKYO, Sept 17 — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may hold a snap general election next month, local media reported, a move that would allow him to seize on opposition disarray and growing support for his handling of the North Korea crisis.
Abe appears increasingly inclined to call an election amid a recovery in public support following a spate of scandals, public broadcaster NHK reported, without saying where it obtained the information. He’ll make a decision after talks with senior Liberal Democratic Party and government officials and may announce the move as early as Sept 28 when parliament reopens, according to NHK.
A vote is most likely to be held on Oct. 29, the Sankei newspaper reported. An NHK poll last week showed that support for Abe’s ruling coalition climbed 5 points to 44 per cent from a month earlier, with approval exceeding disapproval for the first time in three months. Abe has already consulted with his government coalition partner Komeito, according to NHK.
A general election must be held by the end of 2018.
North Korea’s recent spate of missile tests has unnerved Japanese voters and more than two-thirds of respondents to the NHK poll approve of Abe’s strong line on the isolated nation. The main opposition Democratic Party appears to be unravelling with the resignation of several members since a new leader was voted in earlier this month.
“The Democratic Party is in terrible shape, so there is no opposition to Abe,” Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo, said by email. “Crises such as that on the Korean Peninsula are generally good for incumbents. You can look like you’re in charge.”
Koichi Hagiuda, a senior LDP executive, said on Fuji Television this morning that while a decision to call a snap election rests with Abe, the party has to be ready for a vote at any time. A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said that dissolving parliament for an election is the sole prerogative of the prime minister.
Even so, some members of Abe’s party are more sceptical. One senior official, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private, said a snap election may be a gamble because the ruling coalition could lose its two-thirds majority. This could slow the debate on changing the pacifist constitution to make clear the legitimacy of the nation’s armed forces, the official said.
“There is also a real chance that a snap election would lead to his undoing,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Calling a premature election more than a year ahead of the end of the term is purely on the basis of self-interested political calculation.”
Abe suffered a heavy defeat in an election for the local Tokyo assembly in July at the hands of a new party formed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. This was blamed on cronyism scandals that tarnished Abe’s image. Koike’s Tomin First (Tokyo Residents First) party has yet to create a strong national base.
Temple University’s Dujarric said that Koike wouldn’t have time to prepare a challenge to Abe. — Bloomberg