Japan PM Noda announces general election for December
Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has called an early general election for next month, despite polls indicating he will lose.
The election on 16 December could damage global confidence in Japan’s attempts to steer its economy away from its fourth recession since 2000, and further damage ties to China over competing claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea.
Polls show that the Liberal Democratic party (LDP) leader, Shinzo Abe, a hawkish conservative who has promised to take a tougher stance towards China, is tipped to win.
Noda, who took office in August 2011 after Naoto Kan resigned, defied fellow Democratic party of Japan (DPJ) members who had urged him to delay calling the election until the party’s poll ratings improved.
He had promised to dissolve the lower house of parliament after securing opposition support for key bills on electoral reform and budget finance. The DPJ controls the lower house but depends on other parties to get legislation through the upper house.
Speculation about the election date began in August when Noda promised the LDP he would go to the polls “soon” after it supported his plans to raise the sales tax.
At least nine of the DPJ’s 244 MPs in the 480-seat lower house are reportedly planning to defect in anticipation of a heavy defeat, effectively depriving the party of its majority.
But it is not clear whether the LDP, which governed Japan almost without interruption for more than 50 years until 2009, will win enough seats to form a government with its traditional ally, New Komeito.
Abe could be forced to court smaller rightwing parties to prop up his government, leaving open the possibility that Shintaro Ishihara, the former governor of Tokyo who launched the party of the Sun this week, could return to national office.
Ishihara is attempting to create a “third force” in Japanese politics with the populist mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, leader of the newly formed Japan Restoration party.
The two met in Tokyo on Friday in an attempt to iron out differences over tax rises and nuclear power, and could reach agreement to merge their parties over the weekend, according to Kyodo.
Abe, who this week called on the Bank of Japan to print “unlimited yen” and take interest rates to below zero to boost the economy, described the election as a historic battle. “We must achieve victory,” he told party officials. “That is our mission, and it’s with that in mind that I will fight this historic battle. The LDP and the public have been waiting three years for this day to arrive.”