ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter
Lawmakers in Japan's lower house cheer the dissolution of the chamber on Sept. 28. Opposition parties boycotted the session. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)
Politics

Japan's Abe dissolves lower house, calls snap election

Prime Minister seeking to strengthen his hand, but gambit could backfire

MITSURU OBE, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Japan's lower house of parliament has been dissolved after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to call a snap general election, in a gambit that some now believe may backfire.

The dissolution was announced on Thursday as an extraordinary parliamentary session was convened. The general election, expected  to be held on Oct. 22, will set off a three-week scramble by the 475 members of the lower house to fight for reelection. The number of seats has been cut to 465 -- the smallest in the postwar period -- to reduce voting disparities between urban and rural districts.

Abe justified the move, which comes with more than a year left of his four-year term, by claiming a fresh mandate was required to deal with major challenges facing the country, such as escalating tensions with North Korea and a demographic crisis. But some opinion polls show that most voters do not understand the reasons for calling an election now.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, bows as cabinet ministers cheer the dissolution of the lower house, raising their hands and shouting "banzai" on Sept. 28. The word, originally meaning "Long Live the Emperor," was traditionally used by soldiers charging into battle.

At a cabinet meeting Thursday morning, Abe stated that the election would provide an opportunity for a thorough debate on policy with the opposition. "Our job is to explain our policies and produce results," Abe said. 

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are aiming for a simple majority of at least 233 seats in the lower house. But any significant reduction from the coalition's current two-thirds majority could spark complaints from within the party and seriously weaken his position. Abe has held the premiership for five years.

The battle is rapidly shaping up as a showdown between Abe and popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who has established a new national-level opposition party, the Party of Hope.

Japan's opposition has been divided since the Democratic Party was voted out of power in 2012, giving the LDP an easy ride in national elections for the past five years. But efforts are under way to corral opposition groups, and Koike's new party has emerged as an umbrella under which they might be able to work together.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leaves the chamber following the dissolution of the lower house. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

To what extent the Party of Hope can unify the opposition and mount an effective challenge to the LDP remains to be seen, as time is short for the opposition groups to coordinate policies and election strategies.

Abe also hopes to strengthen his political capital through the election, after his support rating tumbled to the 30% range in summer amid accusations of cronyism. The news angered many voters who were already growing frustrated by slow economic growth.

His support ratings have since recovered to around 50% amid mounting tensions with North Korea. Ongoing disarray within the Democratic Party is widely seen as one of the main reasons for calling the election now. The party's leader resigned recently after a resounding defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections and another top party member has been the subject of widely publicized allegations of having an extramarital affair.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more