TOKYO: Japan’s prime minister dissolved the lower house of parliament, paving the way for October 31 national elections as new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida faces an unpopular opposition over who can fix the pandemic-battered economy.
Kishida said he is seeking the public’s mandate for his policies after being elected prime minister by parliament only 10 days ago to replace Yoshihide Suga. Tadamori Oshima, the speaker of the more powerful lower chamber, announced the dissolution at a plenary session.
At the announcement, all 465 lower house lawmakers stood up, shouted “banzai” three times and left. They’ve now lost their seats and official campaigning for a new lower house begins Tuesday. The last lower house election was held in 2017 under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
His successor, Suga, lasted just a year as prime minister and his government’s support was battered by his perceived high-handed approach in dealing with the coronavirus and insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympics despite rising cases that angered public.
Kishida, tasked with rallying support for the ruling party, has promised to pursue politics of “trust and empathy.” He said in his first policy speech last Friday promised to strengthen the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in case of another resurgence and revive its battered economy while bolstering defenses against threats from China and North Korea.
Kishida enjoys reasonable public support 11 days into the job, polls show, boding well for his goal of maintaining a lower house majority for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its Komeito party coalition partner.
Voters will want to see a government with plans for decisive action to end the pandemic and rebuild the economy. A recent newspaper poll showed that about 48% say they want the Kishida administration to work on coronavirus most, followed by economic recovery and employment.
Kishida’s party is promoting his push for coronavirus measures including supplying oral antiviral medication this year, as well as his vision of realising a “new capitalism” that focuses on economic growth and redistribution of wealth.
The ruling party has also called for a sharp increase in defence spending to acquire the capability to destroy ballistic missiles, amid China’s increasingly assertive posture over Taiwan.
The biggest challenge for Constitutional Democrats is their low support ratings. A recent poll found only 13% were planning to vote for them, far behind the LDP’s 47%; most other polls record support in the single digits.
Canvassing in many districts is already underway but formally the campaign will kick off on October 19, followed by the vote on October 31.