Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida yesterday dissolved the lower house of parliament, paving the way for elections on Oct. 31 that would be the country’s first of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At stake will be how Japan faces a potential COVID-19 resurgence and revives its battered economy, and if or how Kishida’s government can leave the shadow of nine years of rule under former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and former Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga.
Kishida said he is seeking a mandate for his policies after being elected prime minister by parliament only 10 days ago.
He replaced Suga, who lasted just a year as prime minister and whose support was battered by his perceived high-handed approach in dealing with COVID-19 and insistence on holding the Tokyo Olympics, despite rising virus cases.
Kishida, tasked with rallying support for the ruling party, has promised to pursue politics of “trust and empathy.”
Four main opposition parties have agreed to cooperate on some policies, such as addressing gaps between the rich and the poor, which they say widened during Abe’s government and were worsened by the pandemic.
After Japanese House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima announced the dissolution, the 465 lawmakers in the more powerful lower chamber stood up, shouted “banzai” three times and left. Official campaigning for all 465 newly vacant seats begins on Tuesday.
The previous House of Representatives election was in 2017 under Abe, a staunch conservative who pulled the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) further to the right during his stint as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
In that vote, the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito together won 310 seats, or two-thirds of the chamber.
Opposition parties have struggled to win enough votes to form a new government after the brief rule of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan from 2009 to 2012. With weaker LDP support under Suga, the party lost three parliamentary by-elections and a local vote this year to opposition contenders.
Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, told Japan Broadcasting Corp that he hopes to make the election “a first step toward changing the politics.”
In his first policy speech last week, Kishida promised to improve the country’s pandemic response, revive the economy, and bolster defenses against threats from China and North Korea.
He also sought to gradually expand social and economic activities by using vaccination certificates and more testing.
Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People, said Kishida was selfish for dissolving the lower house so early in his tenure.
“It is unclear on what policies he is seeking a mandate from the voters,” Tamaki said.
He said his party would propose an economic policy that seeks higher pay for workers.
“We want to create a political situation where ruling and opposition blocs are in close competition,” Tamaki said.
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