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Japan's PM eyes year-end election in quid-pro-quo deal with opposition

English.news.cn   2012-11-13 11:33:11            

by Jon Day

TOKYO, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has indicated his intentions to dissolve the House of Representatives by the end of this year and call a snap-election as public support wanes and pressure from the opposition bloc mounts.

To avoid a no-confidence motion against his cabinet by the opposition bloc, which could force his administration to resign en mass, and to ensure key legislation is passed in a divided parliament, Noda will dissolve the House of Representatives by Nov. 22 and call a general election on Dec. 16, his aides have said.

Noda's cabinet has come under increased fire from the opposition-bloc, from within his own splintered Democratic Party of Japan and from the public of late. Political pundits said that the news of Noda's plans to dissolve the lower house and call an election before the year-end came as no surprise, considering both political and public sentiment towards Noda and his cabinet.

Latest polls have revealed that the disapproval rate for the governing cabinet has hit a record high of 64 percent and public support for Noda's ailing cabinet has tumbled to below 20 percent - - a threshold former prime ministers in recent history have failed to recover from.

The latest polls reveal that the public is at odds with Noda over his planned sales tax hike, which would see consumption tax doubled to 10 percent, as well as his handling of diplomatically sensitive territorial disputes with Japan's neighbors including China and South Korea.

The consensus, however, among political pundits here is that Noda will go ahead with the dissolution of the lower house, though the move was unpopular with some DPJ lawmakers who may find themselves redundant following the next general election.

Political sources have said that Noda is mindful of the fact that there could be imminent defections from the DPJ, putting the party at risk of losing its power in the more powerful lower house. Under Japan's bicameral system of parliament, the opposition bloc control the House of Councilors.

However, Noda's focus seems to be predominantly on the passage of a debt-financing bill for the current fiscal year, and discussions regarding reform of the lower house's electoral system, involving reevaluating the weight of a single vote to correct a current perception of an imbalance in the voting system.

The ruling Democrats propose cutting five single-seat districts as well as 40 seats from the proportional representation constituency to narrow the gap in the value of a vote between heavily and sparsely populated constituencies.

The Liberal Democratic-led opposition bloc, for its part, wishes to see five single-seat districts to be cut before moving to the proportional representation constituency, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Political sources maintain that Noda's electoral reform stance will form part of the DPJ's campaign platform when a general election is held -- evidence that the premiere is very close to dissolving the lower house and preparing his party to defend its incumbency.

Noda also plans to announce Japan's participation in the Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement talks, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, and the prime minister also wants to show a clear difference in policy platform with the LDP who oppose lifting tariffs on agriculture, as this sector comprises a significant portion of the party's backers, the paper said.

In addition, the Japanese leader wants focused deliberations with the opposition camp resulting in the overhaul of the nation' s fragile social security system.

As the main opposition LDP's leader Shinzo Abe has said his party is willing to cooperate with Noda on passing the debt- financing bill and pull together on other pertinent issues, Noda, according to his aides, is now prepared to deliver on his somewhat recalcitrant and long-held promise to dissolve the lower house "in the near future."

Up until now and despite mounting pressure against him, Noda has been reluctant to specify dates for the dissolution of the lower house and subsequent general election, much to the ire of his opponents and the electorate.

The beleaguered premiere has been involved in a vigorous standoff with the LDP and its small New Komeito party confederate, who have attempted to force the premier into stepping down or calling an early general election, or face stalled deliberations in the Diet or vital bills being blocked in the upper house.

"The prime minister was apparently prompted to consider dissolution by a change in the stance of the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party," the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said in a recent editorial on the matter.

"LDP President Shinzo Abe recently said his party is ready to cooperate on passing a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds and resolving other key issues," the popular Japanese daily said.

But despite Noda seemingly gaining the cooperation of the LDP and the New Komeito opposition bloc in return for calling a general election, he could still face a backlash from within the DPJ rank-and-file constituent, which could lead to Noda being ousted and his cabinet forced to resign en masse.

According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper Noda has held talks with DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi who told the prime minister that the environment would have to be suitable for the lower house to be dissolved and urged the prime minister to tread carefully.

"Reflecting the strong resistance within the DPJ to an early dissolution, Koshiishi expressed a cautious stance toward the move, " the Asahi Shimbun said.

DPJ lawmakers may wish for public support ratings to elevate before a general election be held and as such may be opposed to Noda leaning toward an early election date.

But being that the debt-financing bill is likely to be passed in the lower house as soon as Thursday, according to local media reports, with the LDP indicating it will allow its passage, an early election is almost guaranteed without Noda backtracking, political pundits maintain.

Editor: znz
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