Tue, Sep 26, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Abe calls snap election to seek new mandate

CHALLENGER:Hours ahead of Abe’s announcement, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she would form a new party to offer voters an alternative to his ruling LDP

Reuters, TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo yesterday where he announced he would dissolve parliament and call a snap election.

Photo: EPA

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said he would dissolve parliament’s lower house on Thursday for a snap election, seeking a mandate to stick to his tough stance toward North Korea and rebalance the social security system.

Abe, in power for five years, had been expected to call the election for next month to take advantage of improved support and disarray in the opposition camp.

“I’ll demonstrate strong leadership and stand at the forefront to face a national crisis,” Abe told reporters, mentioning Japan’s fast-aging 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 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 rejected criticism that holding an election now would create a political vacuum at a time of rising tension over North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms program.

“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.

Just hours before Abe’s election announcement, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she would lead a new conservative, reform-minded “Party of Hope” to offer voters an alternative to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

“Our ideal is to proceed free of special interests,” Koike, a former LDP member, told a news conference.

Abe, whose ratings have risen to from about 30 percent in July to about 50 percent, is gambling his ruling bloc can keep its lower house majority even if it loses the two-thirds “super majority” needed to achieve his long-held goal of revising the post-war pacifist constitution to clarify the military’s role.

He said his goal was for his coalition to retain a majority in the chamber.

Abe’s image as a strong leader has bolstered his ratings amid the North Korea crisis and overshadowed opposition criticism of the prime minister for suspected cronyism scandals that eroded his support earlier this year.

However, given the results seen in other major developed countries, some political analysts are not ruling out the unexpected.

“Abe’s big gamble could yield a big surprise,” independent political analyst Minoru Morita said.

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