TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told his party deputies that he is considering dissolving the lower house for a snap election before the year-end to gauge public opinion on a planned consumption tax hike.
Abe is scheduled to meet with the leader of coalition partner Komeito, Natsuo Yamaguchi, when he returns from his tour abroad on Nov. 17. Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party say the prime minister will dissolve parliament as early as next week, after meeting with Yamaguchi.
Under the earliest possible schedule, campaigning could start as early as Dec. 2 for voting on Dec. 14. But some argue that legislation debates and election preparations will likely push the start date to Dec. 9, with the actual voting taking place Dec. 21.
While in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Abe told his aides to "be prepared for anything." But publicly, he has not tipped his hand.
"I have made no decisions," he told reporters on Tuesday. "I hear there are some media reports in Japan based on rumors. I will not answer to such speculation, but I myself have never said anything about dissolving the Diet."
On Sunday, the prime minister said, "I am not considering dissolving the lower house at all."
Abe's decision on whether to raise the consumption tax to 10% next October figures prominently in the calculation. In making the final call, he will take into account Japan's July-September gross domestic product, which will be released Monday, as well as input from experts who will wrap up discussions on Nov. 18.
Postponing the hike would go against a 2012 agreement for raising the consumption tax to finance social security reform signed by the LDP, the DPJ and Komeito, and would require revising legislation.
Some LDP members argue that delaying the tax hike would provide a pretext for dissolving the lower house and measure popular sentiment by bringing the debate to the polls. Others suggest postponing the decision on the increase to get a better sense of how the economy is faring.
Yamaguchi called on Komeito to get ready for a snap election before year's end at a meeting Tuesday. "Some scenarios predict a dissolution as early as within the year, and we want to be prepared," he told the press.
That same day, Komeito officials instructed its prefectural headquarters to prepare for elections, assuming a date of Dec. 14. Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist organization behind the party, is also getting ready to support the effort.
But advocates of the tax hike and fiscal discipline within the LDP have opposed dissolving the Diet early. Some are also concerned that such a move may affect legislative priorities, such as passing bills on regional revitalization and women's empowerment in this Diet session.