Suga rules out dissolving lower house soon, focuses on COVID response
Written by tokyoclub on September 1, 2021
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday ruled out dissolving the House of Representatives for a general election anytime soon given Japan’s severe COVID-19 situation, tamping down speculation he will do so in mid-September.
Suga also denied planning to postpone the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race scheduled for Sept. 29, which he must win in order to remain in power.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Sept. 1, 2021. (Kyodo)
“I’ve said COVID-19 countermeasures are my top priority, and that has not changed at all. Considering the severity of the current situation, dissolving (the House of Representatives) isn’t possible right now,” the prime minister said in response to questions from reporters.
The comments came amid speculation by some LDP lawmakers that Suga will call a general election in the hopes of winning at least a modest victory before facing off against former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and other potential rivals in the party leadership race.
The current terms of the powerful lower house of parliament run through Oct. 21, but the prime minister has the power to dissolve it earlier.
With his public support flagging amid dissatisfaction with his government’s COVID-19 response, the focus is on if and when Suga will exercise that option.
Another possibility is that Suga chooses to let House of Representatives members serve out their terms, something that has happened only once before under Japan’s postwar Constitution, during the government of Prime Minister Takeo Miki in 1976.
In that scenario, campaigning for the general election would likely begin Oct. 5 with votes cast on Oct. 17., according to government sources.
“It all comes down to the COVID-19 situation. It’s impossible to decide whether to dissolve (the lower house) or not just yet,” said one person close to Suga.
Jun Azumi, head of parliamentary affairs at the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the prime minister’s unwillingness to set a date for the general election as “irresponsible.”
Japan is experiencing its largest wave of infections yet, with hospitals struggling to deal with a surge in patients with severe symptoms amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The approval rating for Suga’s Cabinet has fallen to its lowest levels since he took office last September, with some within his own party questioning his leadership.
Suga is expected to reshuffle LDP executives and his Cabinet early next week, a tactic often used in an attempt to buoy public support.
In the line-up change, Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s No. 2 man and longest-serving secretary general, is set to leave the post, according to people close to the plan.