Possible spring dissolution of lower house discussed within LDP

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, listen to questions by Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, at a House of Representatives Rules and Administration Committee meeting on Thursday.

Speculation of a possible springtime dissolution and election of the House of Representatives has been underway among Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, with hope that the approval rating for the Cabinet will recover after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga spends time in the spotlight both inside and outside Japan.

The focal point will be whether Suga’s planned visit to the United States for talks with President Joe Biden and progress regarding his key policies, such as the establishment of a digital agency, will reach a certain level of success.

However, others are saying that dissolving the lower house should not be considered for the time being, as there is no prospect of the novel coronavirus being brought under control.

“If there is something that requires a vote of confidence from the people, I think [the prime minister] will not hesitate to do so,” Hiroshi Moriyama, chair of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee, said on Thursday in a recording for a TV program.

Suga will visit the United States in early April and meet Biden in person for the first time. Hakubun Shimomura, chair of the LDP Policy Research Council, said in a lecture on Thursday: “It will be a plus for the Cabinet approval rating. It is possible that [dissolution of the lower house] will follow.”

A scenario whispered among party members sets the dissolution of the House of Representatives in late April and the consequent election in May. Suga is scheduled to visit other foreign countries during the Golden Week holidays in late April and early May, which will provide stages for the prime minister.

Vaccination against COVID-19 for senior citizens will begin in mid-April, and bills related to digitization are expected to be enacted later that month. Efforts to cut mobile phone fees will be in full swing as well.

The LDP has been under fire from opposition parties in the current Diet session, due to politics and money scandals as well as revelations that communications ministry officials were wined and dined by companies.

After the budget bill for next fiscal year passes the Diet later this month, there will be fewer occasions when the prime minister will have to face direct challenges from opposition parties. A senior LDP official said, “It will be a rare opportunity for us to take the battle while the approval rating is on the rise.”

At a press conference on Thursday, however, Suga brushed off such speculation, saying, “I am not thinking about the dissolution [of the House of Representatives] at all, whether after my visit to the United States or not.”

He added, “I will consider [the timing of the dissolution] during my term in office, but my responsibility is to bring the coronavirus situation under control.”

The prime minister’s term as party president runs through to the end of September. Terms of lower house members will end on Oct. 21.

Concerns over infections

As the state of emergency is to be fully lifted on Sunday, there are concerns that infections will spread yet again around the Golden Week holidays. “Local governments that are tasked with carrying out duties regarding vaccinations may oppose government measures on the coronavirus. Then people may criticize the government for prioritizing politics,” a former cabinet minister said.

If the prime minister decides not to dissolve the lower house in spring, another possibility is to have the lower house election on the same day as the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, which is scheduled for July 4. However, Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, has shown reluctance to that schedule, as the party hopes to concentrate on the metropolitan assembly election.

The coronavirus pandemic has restricted the activities of religious group Soka Gakkai, Komeito’s supporting body. “The later the lower house election takes place, the better,” said a senior Komeito lawmaker.

The Cabinet’s approval rating, which had been declining steadily, has picked up slightly in the latest polls. However, many LDP members have expressed opposition to fighting the lower house election with Suga as the leader.

A mid-ranking LDP lawmaker initially planned to have a photo shoot with Suga to make a campaign poster, but decided to change it to a joint photo with Taro Kono, minister in charge of administrative reform. Similar requests have been flooding in to the office of Kono, whose profile has risen as the minister also in charge of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The strongest expectation within the party is to dissolve the lower house in autumn, with the hosting of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games providing a tailwind. “The election will be unfavorable to us if it looks more like we are driven into a corner,” said a former cabinet minister. The prime minister is likely to make a decision carefully on the timing, while assessing the coronavirus situation.

Edano warns of consequences

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano criticized the government’s decision to lift the state of emergency at a meeting of the House of Representatives Rules and Administration Committee on Thursday.

“If the state of emergency is lifted while the infections have not sufficiently abated, and a fourth wave of infections comes, it will be a huge political responsibility,” Edano said. “It won’t be enough to just have the Cabinet ministers resign en masse.”