Japan PM to call election

July 13, 2009 12:00 am

, TOKYO, July 13 – Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, fighting on after a key poll defeat, is to call a snap election for next month with his party’s half-century of almost unbroken rule under threat, reports said.

The embattled premier, whose party suffered a drubbing in Sunday’s Tokyo metropolitan election, intends to call the nationwide vote for August 30, public broadcaster NHK and other media reported.

Aso will dissolve the lower house of parliament on July 21 in preparation for the general election, the reports said.

The weekend poll defeat was seen as likely to increase pressure on Aso from within his own party to quit before the vote.

But analysts said that even if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party dumps Aso as leader, its chances of holding on to power appear dim.

"I believe it’s near 100 percent certain that (the LDP) would be defeated if the election were held now," said Takayoshi Shibata, a professor emeritus of politics at Tokyo Keizai University.

"It’s too late to do anything. They can only brace themselves for defeat. It would be no use if they changed the face of their leader."

The LDP won 38 seats in the weekend vote in Tokyo while its coalition partner New Komeito took 23, leaving the ruling bloc three seats short of the 64 needed for a majority. The remaining 12 seats went to other opposition and independent candidates.

"The results were severe," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura, the top government spokesman. "It was a local election but we have to sincerely accept the results."

The opposition, which controls the upper house, had earlier said it would submit a motion of no-confidence against Aso in parliament this week, urging him to dissolve the lower house and call a general election.

"With this result, Tokyo residents said ‘No’ to the LDP and New Komeito," said Naoto Kan, deputy president of the DPJ.

Aso’s decision to hold an election next month was seen as an attempt to fend off calls from within his party to resign as party leader.

Reports said that many lawmakers in the ruling coalition were opposed to a snap poll and wanted to have more time to prepare for the national vote after a series of defeats in local polls.

The election must be held no later than October 20.

Since taking power in 1955, the LDP has ruled Japan continuously except for one 10-month stretch, guiding the nation from the post-war gloom through its "economic miracle" to become the world’s second-biggest economy.

Aso — Japan’s third prime minister since the popular premier Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006 — took office in September with a mission to revive the LDP ahead of general elections.

But the 68-year-old premier’s approval ratings have slumped over a series of ministerial resignations, policy flip-flops and concern about his handling of the economy during Japan’s worst recession since World War II.

Political uncertainty unsettled Japanese investors Monday, with the Nikkei stock index falling about one percent in morning trade.

The Japanese currency was also under pressure, with the dollar rising to 92.82 yen in Tokyo morning trade from 92.52 in New York late Friday.

"The biggest risk to the markets is an early change to the continuity of economic and fiscal policy," Barclays Capital analysts wrote in a note.

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