TOKYO -- Is Japan headed for a "double election" this summer?
Speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may dissolve the lower house and call a snap election to coincide with the upper house vote received new fuel Friday, when top aide Yoshihide Suga threw a punch at the opposition.
When asked by a reporter at Friday's news conference whether a motion of no confidence submitted by the opposition would be a reason to dissolve the lower house, Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, replied: "I think it naturally would."
The opposition typically submits a no-confidence motion against the cabinet at the end of a Diet session, regardless of the slim possibility that it would ever pass.
Under the constitution, if a motion of no confidence is passed, the cabinet must dissolve the lower house or resign within 10 days. Suga's remarks were widely perceived as the government floating the idea that a no-confidence motion would serve as a pretext for a snap election.
Abe's recent statements calling for an accelerated debate about revising the constitution have also been seen as possible preparations for a "double election." The idea of holding a same-day upper and lower house vote -- typically seen as advantageous to the ruling party -- was first rumored to be advocated by Finance Minister Taro Aso in April.
A major victory in a double election could pave way for Abe to seek a fourth term, which would require a change of rules at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The opposition was caught off-guard by Suga's statement. "It is extremely strange to suggest that the power of dissolving the lower house lies in the hands of the opposition leader," said Tetsuro Fukuyama of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a junior opposition party.
Equally uneasy is Abe's coalition partner, Komeito, which worries that holding two major elections at the same time could stretch Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist group that is its main backer, too thin. Memories of a scathing loss in the 1980 same-day elections are also fresh in Komeito's mind.
Komeito Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi on Tuesday cited the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June as a reason to back off from any such ideas.
"Japan is preparing to host a major international summit for the first time. I hope to welcome world leaders with a stable cabinet," he told reporters.