JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Monday that he would dissolve parliament’s lower house on Thursday for a snap election, seeking a mandate to stick to his tough stance towards a volatile North Korea and rebalance the social security system.
Abe’s announcement comes amid a surge in support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) following tensions with North Korea, and is also capitalising on an opposition party in disarray.
“I’ll demonstrate strong leadership and stand at the forefront to face a national crisis,” Abe told reporters, mentioning Japan’s fast-ageing population and North Korea.
“This is my responsibility as leader and my mission as prime minister.”
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of Abe‘s junior coalition partner the Komeito party, said he understood the election would be on Oct. 22.
Abe has struggled with low approval ratings in recent months, but has seen an uptick following the recent heightened tensions with North Korea and the growing risk of nuclear proliferation in the region. Abe’s image as a strong leader in response to these risks has overshadowed criticism from the opposition over scandals that had eroded his support. His ratings have risen to around 50 percent from around 30 percent in July.
The main opposition Democratic Party has been suffering in the polls, with only eight percent of voters planning to vote for them. The same survey by Nikkei business daily showed 44 percent of voters planned to vote for the LDP.
According to The Japan Times, opposition lawmakers have slammed Abe’s plan as a violation of the constitution and accused the Prime Minister of dissolving the chamber in a bid to avoid being grilled over allegations of cronyism that were expected to take place on Thursday, the same day Abe will dissolve parliament.
Abe said he would redirect some revenue from a planned sales tax hike in 2019 to child care and education rather than paying back public debt, although he added he would not abandon fiscal reform. Rebalancing the spending would offset the potential negative effect on consumption from the tax rise, he said.
“We will turn Japan’s social security system into one that responds to all generations by boldly diverting policy resources to resolve the two major concerns – child rearing and (elderly) nursing care – that working generations confront,” he said.
Abe has also faced criticism that he is creating a political vacuum at a time of when North Korea’s missile and nuclear programme is presenting a clear threat to the region.
“We must not give in to North Korea’s threats. By gaining a mandate from the people with this election, I will forge ahead with strong diplomacy,” Abe said, adding that now was the time to put more pressure on Pyongyang, not open dialogue.
Abe on Monday also asked his cabinet to compile a 2 trillion yen (US$18 billion) economic package by year-end to focus on child care, education and encouraging corporate investment.
He told public broadcaster NHK that diverting sales tax revenue would make it “impossible” to meet the government’s target of balancing Japan’s budget – excluding debt servicing costs and bond sales – by the year beginning April 2020.
“But we are absolutely not lowering the flag of fiscal consolidation,” he said.
An LDP internal survey showed seats held by the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito could fall to 280 from the 323 they now hold, the Nikkei reported on Saturday. Reforms enacted last year will cut the number of lower house seats to 465 from 475.
Additional reporting from Reuters