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Japan’s Abe Tells Coalition Partner He’ll Call Snap Election

(Bloomberg) — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his
coalition partner he will dissolve the lower house of parliament
on Sept. 28 for a general election.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the Komeito party, told reporters
about his conversation with Abe after the pair met in Tokyo on
Monday. Abe is scheduled to hold a press briefing at 6 p.m. in
Tokyo, at which he’s expected to announce the poll.
Voting will be set for Oct. 22, according to three people
with knowledge of his ruling coalition’s plans. Heightened
tensions with North Korea have boosted Abe’s approval rating
after a series of scandals, and may help him retain his
coalition’s two-thirds majority in the lower house of
parliament.
Ahead of Abe’s remarks, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike
announced that she would form a new national party to challenge
him. Koike, a former member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party,
said Monday that her “Party of Hope” would run candidates across
the nation.
Abe announced Monday he had ordered Economy Minister
Toshimitsu Motegi to compile a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion)
economic package, including spending on preschool and higher
education, as well as improving conditions for people working in
elderly care. The premier said he would make use of revenues
from a planned increase in the nation’s consumption tax in
October 2019.
A poll published in the Nikkei newspaper on Monday said
Abe’s LDP received 44 percent of support, compared to 8 percent
for both Koike’s group and the main opposition Democratic Party.
Another survey by Kyodo News published on Sunday showed the LDP
with a more than three-to-one margin against its closest rival,
with 42 percent still undecided.
While the Democratic Party is splintering, Koike has a
history of local election victories over the premier’s party.
After defecting from the LDP, she crushed it in a July election
for the metropolitan assembly. Komeito’s Yamaguchi said he hoped
she would concentrate on her post in Tokyo.

Abe Tenure

Abe has served a total of almost six years as prime
minister: he had a truncated term a decade ago, and came back to
power in a landslide in 2012. He could serve until 2021 if re-
elected as party leader next year, making him the longest-
serving prime minister in Japanese history, though recent polls
have shown a majority of voters against this idea.
The Nikkei poll showed that 20 percent were undecided, and
a majority said it was inappropriate for Abe to dissolve the
lower house this month — more than a year before his
government’s term is set to expire. Nikkei Research Inc.
surveyed 1,044 people aged 18 or older by phone.
Kyodo reported that its survey conducted over the weekend
showed 27 percent of respondents saying they would vote for
Abe’s LDP, compared with 8 percent for the Democratic Party.
Sixty-four percent said they don’t support his drive for a fresh
mandate, the report said, without giving details on the number
of respondents or margin of error.
Abe’s support is likely to be buoyed by the economy, which
has grown for six straight quarters. While unemployment is less
than 3 percent, the premier has said wage rises haven’t met his
expectations.

$18 Billion Package

At his official residence in Tokyo, Abe stressed the need
to raise the sales tax to bring in revenue to pay for his
spending plans.
“Without funds, these policies would just be pie in the
sky,” he said Monday. “On the other hand, we must proceed
steadily with restoring fiscal health. Finding a balance will be
important.”
Tokyo Governor Koike said people did not have a real sense
that the economy was improving, and warned that raising the
sales tax would pose a risk. She also said debate on
constitutional reform should not be avoided.
“We need a real force for reform,” Koike told reporters in
Tokyo. “By making my position clear, I hope to add energy to the
movement,” she added. The new party’s policies will include
cutting the number of lawmakers and their pay, improving
transparency in government and female empowerment.
The ruling coalition currently controls 68 percent of seats
in the 475-member lower house, including 288 for the LDP and 35
for its coalition partner Komeito, according to the
parliamentary website. The total number of seats is set to be
cut to 465 in the next election as part of a reform aimed at
reducing the excessive weight given to rural votes under the
current system.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net;
Emi Nobuhiro in Tokyo at enobuhiro@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net
Andy Sharp

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