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Politics

Japan Prime Minister Suga faces no-confidence vote

Ruling coalition to reject motion to focus on COVID-19 response

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has failed to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people, key opposition figure Yukio Edano said June 14. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Japanese opposition parties submitted a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday as headwinds grow over his handling of the pandemic and the Summer Olympics here.

Leaders from the Constitutional Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Democratic Party for the People and the Social Democratic Party came to the decision on Monday after the ruling coalition rejected their request for a three-month extension to the current parliamentary session, which ends Wednesday.

"The government has lost the public's confidence on numerous occasions," CDP chief Yukio Edano told reporters Monday.

"The Suga government has not been able to protect the lives and livelihoods of our people," he said.

This would be the first no-confidence vote submitted to Japan's lower house since June 2019. When a no-confidence vote is passed, the prime minister has 10 days to dissolve the lower house or have the entire cabinet step down.

Suga had previously suggested that he would dissolve the lower house for a snap election should such a motion be submitted -- a threat that had deterred the opposition from trying.

But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito now plan to vote down the motion and wait until possibly the end of September to trigger a snap election, concerned that campaigning at this time could help spread the coronavirus and hinder vaccination efforts.

Speaking to reporters Sunday local time after the Group of Seven summit ended in the U.K., Suga was cagey on whether he would dissolve the lower house in response to a no-confidence vote.

"I will look to ensure the safety and peace of mind of as many citizens as possible," he said.

"Our top priority of course is the coronavirus response," Suga said, further fueling speculation of a snap election in the fall.

The prime minister is not eager to dissolve the lower at this juncture, partly also because he believes that an election held after the vaccine rollout gains steam would work in favor of the LDP.

"The later the election is held, the better the environment," he has told close aides.

The cabinet's approval rating has moved inversely with Japan's COVID-19 case count. Current polling shows support at the lowest since the Suga government launched last autumn.

If a lower house dissolution is pushed back, Suga could revive his approval rating by vaccinating more people and controlling the spread of infections.

COVID-19 vaccinations are picking up pace. There are days when the total number of shots administered grows by more than 1 million from the previous day.

Suga indicated last Wednesday during a parliamentary debate with Edano that all residents wanting shots would be vaccinated "by October or November."

If Japan continues to administer around 1 million vaccine doses per day, more than 60% of the population will have received at least one shot by the end of September, when Suga is looking to dissolve the lower house.

Suga also hopes that the vaccine rollout could lift public support for the Olympics, which the majority of Japanese believe should be postponed or canceled, according to a Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll from May.

"We received strong support from all G-7 leaders" for the games, Suga had told reporters in the U.K. -- a shift in tone from his previous comments that the event would not go forward if its safety could not be ensured.

Suga also said the fundamental plan was to allow a limited number of Japanese spectators to attend.

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