Prime Minister dissolves Diet’s Lower House

Prime Minister Shizo Abe is set to dissolve the current Lower House of the Diet and announce new elections tomorrow, a move political observers say will strengthen his power, while at the same time promoting the economy and making Japanese happy by delaying the scheduled sales tax hike.

The snap election will be announced for Dec. 14th, and the 480-seat Lower House will be dissolved on Nov. 21.  Abe already controls 325 of those seats, an absolute majority, and observers say he could significantly increase the number of ruling Liberal Democratic Party seats, giving him an even stronger leverage to promote his programs.  At the heart of his decision is the intent to delay the consumption tax increase planned for next April until October 2017, a move he says will curb an economic crisis that could result in deflation or even a recession if he didn’t act.  The unpopular consumption tax was raised last April from 5% to 8%.

Opposition lawmakers are already howling about the new elections, which come only midway through the four-year terms for members of the Lower House.  They also point out the Dec. 14th election will cost taxpayers some ¥60 billion.  Abe is currently riding high in opinion polls, carrying a 44% approval rating.  His LDP is almost as high at 36.6%, more than quadruple that of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, which has only a 7.9% positive rating.  Abe has signaled he would step down if his party doesn’t making gains in the new elections.

About 2/3 of the nation’s taxpayers are siding with the Prime Minister in postponing the tax hike.  Only 24% think the tax increase should go through next year as planned.  Abe’s decision comes only hours after new economic figures were released by the Cabinet Office showed the gross domestic product had declined 1.6% in the July ~ September period.  On the other hand, his Abenomics has reduced the yen’s value, which benefits major exporters.  His administration says Abenomics is benefiting the public, both in terms of jobs / employment, and stronger Japanese companies.

Dissolving the Lower House means all LDP / Abe bills waiting for approval will be scrapped, and the Prime Minister must start over again re-introducing them.