Suga maneuvers to have LDP race held after lower house election

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is moving to create a scenario in which he dissolves the House of Representatives in September, then holds the election for Liberal Democratic Party president after the one for the lower house.

Suga’s bid for reelection as party president after his term ends on Sept. 30 hinges on the success of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

But if his Cabinet’s approval ratings remain sluggish, calls may grow for the LDP leadership election to be held before the lower house race.

“My term [as LDP president] is set to end this autumn. Sometime before that, I have to make a decision [on dissolving the lower house],” Suga said at a press conference Thursday, indicating his resolve to dissolve the lower house before his term expires.

In his mind, Suga wants to hold the lower house election in September following the conclusion of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The most likely scenario is to dissolve the lower house at the beginning of the extraordinary Diet session in early September, with the election slated for Oct.10 or 17.

In such a case, the dissolution would take priority over the presidential election expected to be held in September. The schedule for the presidential race needs to be decided by the end of August, according to the LDP presidential election rules.

If the prime minister dissolves the lower house before the itinerary for the party election is finalized, the election will be suspended. If that happens, it could invite criticism that Suga is disregarding party members who have the right to vote in the presidential election.

In order to curb such unnecessary backlash, a proposal has been floated to hold a general meeting of party members from both houses of the Diet to decide on a postponement of the presidential election before the schedule is announced.

Suga’s insistence that the elections be held in the order of lower house election first and then the presidential race stems from the fact that he does not belong to any party faction, and thus does not have a strong power base.

He reads the situation as being that if the party wins the lower house election and then the presidential election is held, there would be no upheaval.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is perceived as Suga’s “guardian,” said, “If the general election takes place before [the presidential race], it will be the voters who choose Suga. How can the party replace him after that? It’s ridiculous.”

Face of the election

One item on the political itinerary that will impact the date of the lower house dissolution is the handling of the fiscal 2021 supplementary budget bill for large-scale economic measures.

If the lower house is dissolved immediately after the closing of the Paralympics on Sept. 5, the passage of the supplementary budget bill will be put off until after the election. But, if there is no sign of an upturn in his approval ratings, Suga may have the budget passed to try to gain momentum for the dissolution.

In order to turn the situation Suga’s way, he needs to contain the spread of COVID-19 infections at the Olympics, and get the economy back on track by making progress on vaccinations.

Conversely, if the Olympics evolve into a super-spreader event, it would deal the administration a heavy blow. More lawmakers inside the party could become anxious about the prime minister being the party’s “face of the election,” which could force Suga into a situation in which he cannot dissolve the lower house.

If that is the case, the LDP presidential race would be held in September before the lower house election. Betting on the hope that widespread vaccinations will allow him to go on the offensive, Suga will have the option of holding a general election in November after the term of lower house members expires on Oct. 21.