UPDATE: Lower House election set for Dec. 16

November 14, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The government decided on Nov. 14 to hold a Lower House election on Dec. 16, after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in the Diet that the chamber could be dissolved as early as Nov. 16.

The election campaign will officially start on Dec. 4.

The decision was made during a meeting of top officials of the government and the Democratic Party of Japan at the prime minister's office.

Noda had previously said he planned to dissolve the Diet chamber by the end of the year for a snap election, but he said on Nov. 14 that he might move up the schedule to within days if the opposition Liberal Democratic Party promises to cut the number of Diet seats at the next ordinary Diet session and reduce lawmakers’ salaries.

The prime minister’s remarks came during a one-on-one debate in the Diet with LDP President Shinzo Abe.

Noda and Abe appear to be cooperating closely on clearing the three conditions that Noda set for dissolving the Lower House: passage of bond-issuance legislation, establishing a council on social security, and reforming the Lower House election system primarily to narrow the gap in the value of a vote between the least and most populated districts by, for example, cutting the number of Diet seats.

The LDP agreed to accept Noda’s proposals at an emergency meeting of its executives on Nov. 14.

“Our party has sincerely accepted the prime minister’s remarks and decided on a policy to cooperate,” LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters after the meeting. “We will discuss how to achieve that from now on.”

New Komeito, a smaller opposition party and an LDP ally, is also expected to go along with Noda’s proposals.

“An agreement is possible if fundamental reform of the electoral system is (discussed) at the next ordinary Diet session to be convened after the Lower House election,” party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said. “We want to make efforts.”

Opposition to Noda’s dissolution plan has spread among DPJ members, who fear the unpopular party will be crushed in an early election. Other members reject Noda’s strategy for the party’s election campaign.

DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi informed Noda at the prime minister’s office on Nov. 14 about a possible rebellion forming within the party.

Shozaburo Jimi, head of the junior coalition partner People's New Party, also met with Noda that day and asked him to put priority on policy issues rather than the Lower House dissolution.

Veteran lawmakers, including Akihiro Ohata and Banri Kaieda, both former industry ministers, met with Koshiishi in the Diet earlier in the day with signatures from 12 DPJ members.

They said compiling the budget for the next fiscal year and correcting the disparity in the weight of votes must be completed before a Lower House dissolution. They also called for intraparty discussions on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement—a policy that Noda wants to push in the election campaign.

“This is not the correct time for a dissolution, taking into account the interest of the general public,” Kaieda told reporters.

About 10 lawmakers, including Masahiko Yamada, a former farm minister and opponent of the TPP, informed Koshiishi that they cannot accept the idea of using Japan’s participation in the TPP as a key campaign issue.

Yamada later suggested he was prepared to leave the DPJ.

“I will make my next move with determination," he said.

Noda indicated his plan to dissolve the chamber by year’s end at the Lower House Budget Committee session on Nov. 13, referring to a promise he made to the LDP and New Komeito in August, after they helped him pass legislation to raise the consumption tax.

“I am aware that my past words ‘at an early date’ have a weighty meaning,” he said. “I will dissolve the chamber at an early date.”

Shortly after Noda’s comment, long-serving lawmakers voiced dissenting views at the DPJ Standing Officers Council, the second-highest decision-making body in the party. The council unanimously agreed to oppose any move by Noda to dissolve the Lower House this year.

A Lower House election must be held by autumn next year after the current members’ terms expire.

But the LDP and New Komeito have long been demanding an early election, saying Noda had promised to do so. They also oppose suggestions within the DPJ to extend the current Diet session and compile an extra budget to prop up the economy.

Hirohisa Fujii, chairman of the DPJ tax commission, who is considered a guardian of Noda, sided with the prime minister’s opponents in the ruling party.

“We should wait until the (Lower House members’) terms end,” Fujii said.

Yoshikatsu Nakayama, a Lower House member, even suggested the prime minister should resign for the good of the DPJ.

“Will (Noda) call a Lower House dissolution for the sake of the LDP?” Nakayama said. “I think holding an election after a change of party leader would be what the LDP dislikes the most.”

At a Nov. 13 meeting of a group of DPJ lawmakers critical of the Noda administration, Lower House member Osamu Nakagawa did not disguise his disgust with the current situation.

“I want to form a new party after leaving the DPJ as soon as possible,” he said.

At an earlier news conference on Nov. 14, Fujimura addressed the objections within the DPJ.

“I know the opinions in the party, but I believe every party member understands that only the prime minister holds the right to dissolve the Lower House,” the top government spokesman said.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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LDP leader Shinzo Abe, left, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda debate in the Diet on Nov. 14. (Asahi Shimbun photos)

LDP leader Shinzo Abe, left, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda debate in the Diet on Nov. 14. (Asahi Shimbun photos)

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  • LDP leader Shinzo Abe, left, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda debate in the Diet on Nov. 14. (Asahi Shimbun photos)

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