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Politics

Japan's Suga rules out snap election 'for time being'

Prime minister tells coalition partner his focus is on virus response and economy

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said since taking office last month that fighting the coronavirus and supporting the economy are his top priorities. (Photo by Masayuki Terazawa)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga does not plan to call early elections "for the time being," he said Friday, adding to signs that the next parliamentary race will not come until at least early 2021.

Suga made the comments in a roughly hourlong meeting with Natsuo Yamaguchi, who heads Komeito, the ruling coalition partner to the prime minister's Liberal Democratic Party.

Asked about the election outlook, Suga said he wants to "ensure we're responding to the coronavirus and work hard to put the economy back on track," Yamaguchi told reporters after their meeting. "That's what I'll be doing for now," Suga reportedly added.

Hopes had been growing within the ruling coalition for early elections to capitalize on Suga's popularity. His cabinet enjoyed 74% approval at its outset in a recent Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll, one of the highest levels ever for a new government.

But the prime minister, who succeeded longtime leader Shinzo Abe in September, appears focused on his early pledges. The coronavirus pandemic still shows no signs of abating.

"What the public wants from this new government is to balance stopping the spread of infections and handling the economy," Suga had told reporters soon after taking office. "I aim to ensure the economy recovers. That's what I want to focus on first."

Natsuo Yamaguchi, newly elected to his seventh straight term as leader of the ruling coalition party Komeito, stands with Suga on Sept. 27. (Photo by Yuki Nakao)

Suga has also laid out other priorities, including cutting mobile phone bills and creating a dedicated government agency for digital policy.

The government and the ruling coalition are keen to get key legislation passed during a short parliamentary session set to convene in late October. Measures to be submitted include a Japan-U.K. economic partnership agreement and legislation that would give pharmaceutical companies protection from coronavirus-vaccine-related liabilities.

Discussions have begun on an additional economic stimulus package due out as early as this year. A third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 will be drafted to fund this spending and submitted during the regular parliamentary session starting next January.

Suga will decide the timing of a snap election based on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak and the political calendar for next year. His term as LDP leader lasts until the end of next September, and the terms of lower house lawmakers end on Oct. 21, 2021.

Possible timings to dissolve the lower house for elections are the start of the January parliamentary session, after the fiscal 2021 budget passes in late March, and around the time of the LDP leadership election. Factors to be taken into account include whether the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics take place as planned next summer.

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