Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday announced that the government's lower house of parliament will dissolve this week - and replacement elections will be held next month.
Abe said he would be seeking a new mandate on his North Korea policy, as well as the use of taxes in the upcoming elections, which could take place next month. North Korea's sixth nuclear test, as well as two missile launches over Japan, have heightened tensions in East Asia in recent weeks. The election is to be held October 22.
"We will turn Japan's social security system into one that responds to all generations by boldly diverting policy resources to resolve the two major concerns - child rearing and (elderly) nursing care - that working generations confront", he said. The upcoming election was announced hours after Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, announced the formation of a new party that could give conservative voters an alternative to Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP). Although Abe has, so far, not commented on the speculation-and it is at the prime minister's discretion to dissolve parliament-our sources suggest a reasonable probability of an early election.
He has promised to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent in 2019 from the current 8 percent, and previously had said nearly all the revenue would be used to achieve a budget surplus the following year.
According to the prime minister's plan, the additional tax revenues would be spent to deal with the rapid graying of the population and the declining birthrate, developments that Abe described as a national crisis.
The Japanese media are speculating that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may call a snap election, possibly as early as October 22. Rebalancing the spending would offset the potential negative effect on consumption from the tax rise, he said.
Abe said he aims to win at least 233 seats, or a majority, in the 475-seat lower house and stay in power.
He said fostering human resources and improving productivity would be two pillars of his Cabinet's policies, adding that the government will compile a policy package worth 2 trillion yen (18 billion US dollars) to boost support for child care and education.
Politically, Abe would be justified in trying to dictate the timing of the next election for the Lower House, the term of whose current members run through December 2018, to his maximum advantage.
Another poll, from Kyodo News, put the percentage of undecided voters at 42.2%, which for some observers meant that bringing elections forwards by a year was not without risks for Abe. "Our ideal is to proceed free of special interests", she added.