Japan Prime Minister dissolves parliament, calls for elections

Japan’s Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has called a general election on December 16, slightly more than a year after taking office. This is part of a bargain made by Noda with the main opposition parties in exchange for support in passing legislation, including a deficit financing bill and electoral reforms, that Noda deems necessary for the health of the national economy.

TOKYO (majirox news) — Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament on November 16, calling for a general election in one month. This is the first one since the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won office in 2009. This could cause the DPJ to lose power.

“I would like to ask the public if we are going forward or backwards?” Noda said at a press conference November 16 at Tokyo. “We can’t go back to the days when hereditary politics was rampant.”

Jeffrey Kingston, professor of Japanese politics at Temple University’s Tokyo campus, explains why this snap election has been called.

“Prime Minister Noda promised in the summer that he would hold elections soon in exchange for the cooperation from the main opposition party in passing some legislation and they have done so. They have been asking him to keep his promise and today he finally delivered.”

Politically, this may be political suicide. The timing for elections is at the discretion of the prime minister, and elections are generally held when the ruling party commands a lead in the polls. The DPJ’s fortunes are at an all-time low. Japan’s fiscal and economic situation is weak and its relations with its neighbors, including China and South Korea, are tense. The prospect of a new government does not seem like a recipe for improvement.

“He wants to be seen to be a can do prime minister and a man of integrity but his public opinion poll rating are below 20 percent and so his party I think his party is heading for a blood bath,” Kingston said.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who suddenly quit his post in 2007, and then returned to head the main opposition bloc, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), may become Japan’s next prime minister. His party hopes to regain power after its humiliating loss in the previous election in 2009.

“We and the public have waited for this day for three years,” Abe said at a press conference November 16. “The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has failed to keep its promise to seek a popular mandate. We will bring prosperity back to Japan.”

And many of the Japanese agree with Abe.

Businessman Hideki Ito said, “We Japanese are frustrated with politicians who have not delivered what they promised. We want more significant reforms than any of the politicians are promising. I don’t put great hope in the next elections.”

However, some Japanese want to give the ruling party and the prime minister another chance.

Naomi Shirakawa said, “The ruling DPJ and the prime minister have not had time to fulfill their promises. I hope they win the elections, so they can accomplish what they set out to do.”

There is widespread opposition within the ruling DPJ to early elections, with some legislators already fleeing to splinter groupings and parties. The low approval rating for the party, together with the unpreparedness of some districts and their candidates, coupled with the resentment by many members over what they see as a betrayal of principles, will almost certainly spell trouble for Noda.

Whatever the eventual mood of the voters, analysts say it is unlikely that one party will gain a simple majority. Almost certainly the result will be a coalition including those smaller parties formed by Osaka mayor heavyweight Toru Hashimoto, ex-Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara, “Shadow Shogun” Ichiro Ozawa and defectors from the LDP. Since these parties will be jockeying for prominence and promoting their own agendas, it is hard to see that a change of government from the current position will result in any positive policies.

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