Japan PM likely to call November poll, party set for drubbing

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 22, 2012 9:54 PM
Japan PM likely to call November poll, party set for drubbing

By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is likely to call a snap election for November, ruling and opposition party members said on Thursday, despite the likelihood that his party will suffer a drubbing.

Noda, who took office last September as Japan's sixth premier in five years, scored a rare policy win this month when parliament enacted a law to double the sales tax to curb public debt. But he had to pledge to call an election "soon" to gain opposition backing to pass the bill in a divided parliament.

Members of Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) want to put off an election given their sagging support but opposition parties, which control parliament's upper house, can force his hand by blocking a bill to allow fresh bond issues to fund the budget this fiscal year.

"I expect the lower house will be dissolved in October and elections will be called in November," Keiichi Ishii, policy chief of the New Komeito opposition party, told Reuters in an interview.

The New Komeito is an ally of the biggest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The parties backed Noda's tax increase legislation.

"The scenario is that parliament will hold an extraordinary session early in October and may pass the deficit bond bill and an extra budget before the prime minister dissolves the (lower) chamber," Ishii said.

"But to secure passage of the bond bill, Noda must promise to hold elections during the extra parliament session."

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki, speaking at a news conference, declined to confirm whether he would accept a November poll, saying only that his party wanted a vote as soon as possible.

Democratic Party lawmaker Sumio Mabuchi, however, agreed a November vote was on the cards.

"Of course, no one (in the DPJ) wants an election now but the tide is shaping up already as the prime minister promised to call elections soon to enact the sales tax bill on August 10. It's natural to think elections are drawing near."


Finance Minister Jun Azumi has said that unless the funding bill passes, the government could run out of money by the end of October. Lower house members' terms run to August next year but most of them are betting on polls before the end of this year.

Kyodo news agency, citing senior LDP members, said earlier that Noda had indicated in a meeting with the LDP leader that he would call an election before compiling a budget for the next fiscal year, suggesting he had November 4 or November 11 in mind.

Kyodo added, however, that the LDP had rejected the offer and that Noda had also floated an October 7 election date.

"The feeling is growing day by day that we cannot leave the governing of Japan to the Democrats any longer," LDP Vice President Tadamori Oshima told Reuters this month.

The DPJ, a mix of conservatives, centre-left lawmakers and ex-socialists, swept to power in August 2009, pledging to change how Japan was governed after more than 50 years of almost non-stop rule by the conservative LDP.

Three years and three prime ministers later, critics say the Democrats have largely failed to deliver on their promises to reduce bureaucrats' control over policymaking and pay more heed to consumers and workers.

The party has also suffered a series of defections over the tax increase, and is divided over energy policy as Noda tries to decide what role nuclear power should play amid a growing anti-nuclear clamor after last year's Fukushima atomic disaster.

Politicians and analysts agree that the Democrats now look set for defeat. But it is uncertain whether the LDP and junior ally New Komeito can win a majority given widespread voter dissatisfaction with mainstream parties.

That dissatisfaction is reflected in support for populist Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose Ishin no Kai party hopes to win seats in parliament.

That means the next government could be a weak coalition, spelling more confusion as Japan grapples with a stagnant economy, rocky ties with China and South Korea, and declining global competitiveness.

Noda's push to increase the sales tax to 10 percent by 2015 was billed as a test of Japan's resolve to tackle its snowballing debt. That debt tops two years' worth of economic output, a record among industrialized nations.

(Additional reporting by Avik Das in BANGALORE; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel)