Speculation Swirls Over Lower House Dissolution after G7

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

Speculation is simmering within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida might dissolve the House of Representatives after the Group of Seven summit to be held in Hiroshima in May.

This is arising because the Cabinet’s approval rating has been showing signs of a turnaround following the Japan-South Korea summit talks and Kishida’s visit to Ukraine. There are also hopes that the G7 summit will provide a further tailwind.

A senior LDP member believes that if the party wins all five by-elections for the lower house and the House of Councillors, notions for an early dissolution of the lower house will gain momentum within the party, and if the party wins two or less, talk of a dissolution will become more distant.

At the moment, Kishida is taking a cautious stance toward dissolving the lower house, telling those around him that he wonders “if there is any point in holding a [lower house] election even though the LDP holds a stable majority on its own now.”

On March 28, after the budget for the current fiscal year was approved by the Diet, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi asked Kishida directly in front of reporters to confirm that Kishida is not considering dissolving the lower house at this stage. The purpose was to obtain Kishida’s assurance that he would first concentrate on the unified local elections, which Komeito attaches great importance to.

On the following day, Yamaguchi told senior officials of his party that he expects the lower house will not be dissolved anytime soon.

Lower house members’ terms will turn the corner in October, with two years remaining, but Kishida’s term as LDP president expires in September 2024. Some close to Kishida said that the timing of a dissolution should be as close as possible to the expiration of his term as party president, so that he can be reelected in the LDP presidential election almost unopposed.

In the October 2021 lower house election, immediately after assuming the post of prime minister, Kishida set the “shortest postwar election schedule” for a voting day following the lower house’s dissolution. The surprisingly tight timetable led to the victory of the ruling parties.

In the past, the results of by-elections brought cabinets to a standstill in some cases.

In April 2021, the LDP lost all three by-elections and reelection for the lower and upper houses, including an uncontested loss, and then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was forced to resign without being able to dissolve the lower house.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda missed an opportunity to dissolve the lower house after the LDP lost the April 2008 by-election for Yamaguchi Constituency No. 2 of the lower house, and stepped down about five months later.