independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Japan PM expected to call election

Japanese prime minister Yoshiko Noda arrives at a debate in parliament (AP)

Japanese parliamentary elections have been tentatively set for December 16, media reports said on Thursday after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged to dissolve the parliament by Friday if the opposition agreed to key reforms.

Mr Noda's pledge, made during a heated parliamentary exchange with Liberal Democratic Party chief Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, drew protests from some lawmakers within his own party who are not keen to face a vote at a time when the economy is ailing and public approval ratings for Mr Noda's Cabinet have fallen below 20%.

At least two members of the Democratic Party of Japan announced they would quit the party following the decision to dissolve the lower house, which would bring on elections.

Japanese media reported that party leaders had tentatively chosen December 16 as the date for the elections. The Cabinet office said the date could not be officially set or confirmed until after Mr Noda dissolves parliament.

Under the Japanese constitution, general elections must be held within 40 days after that point.

The pledge to call elections highlights the gridlock that has paralysed Japanese politics for years, hindering progress to revitalise an economy on the brink of recession and revamp government finances to cope with a fast-ageing population.

An election would also be a distraction at a time of acute antagonisms with China over a territorial dispute that have hurt Japanese exports to one of its biggest markets.

In recent days, Mr Noda has said he would push for Japan to negotiate various free-trade arrangements that many in Japan see as vital for reviving its stagnant economy. However, like other recent leaders, he appears to have run out of time: Japan has seen six prime ministers in the past six years.

"There's a real failure of leadership. That's in part because Japan's expectations for leadership are unrealistic. But also because the quality of leadership in Japan is really low," said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University.

The LDP has been pushing Mr Noda to make good on a promise to call elections soon, but he has said lawmakers must first carry out reforms needed to make the vote constitutional. Those reforms would include shrinking the size of the lower house of parliament. Mr Noda said the legislature would also have to approve an urgently needed deficit financing bill.

Press Association

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