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Japan to vote December 14

November 21, 2014

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dissolved parliament's lower house, forcing a snap election due on December 14. His bid for re-election comes despite data showing Japan has slipped into recession.

Shinzo Abe PK Parlament Auflösung Neuwahlen 21.11.2014
Image: Reuters/Y. Shino

Prime Minister Abe set the scene for re-election on Friday in what analysts said was a bid to win over voters before he tackles issues such as plans to restart nuclear power plants and expand Japan's military role.

"Is there really any other way," Abe asked rhetorically at a meeting of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), according to NHK public television. "Let's grab a win together," he added.

His government had been only halfway through a four-year team, but bruised by several scandals. Two ministers have had to resign over election law violations.

Koichi Nakano, politics professor at Tokyo's Sophia University, said the re-election of Abe's LDP was, however, likely, given the current disarray among opposition parties.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) was voted out of office in 2012 after failing to meet promised goals during its three-years in government.

'Reset button'

Abe was "pushing the reset button," Nakano said, adding that the premier was seeking a "blank check" from voters to continue governing for a further four years.

In December 475 seats are to be contested after the rearranging of electorates to balance between sparsely populated rural areas and dense urban areas.

In the outgoing parliament, Abe's LDP and its junior partner, the Komeito party, held two-thirds of the current 480 seats.

Japan in recession

Data published on Monday showed that Japan's economy - the world's third largest - had unexpectedly shrunk in this year's third quarter.

The slowdown was blamed on a sales tax hike, from 5 percent to 8 percent, aimed at boosting Japan's revenues and reducing the country's ballooning national debt.

Abe has delayed a planned second tax hike - to 10 percent - until April 2017 to help fund social security costs for Japan's fast-ageing population.

Resistance from farm lobby

Over the past 24 months, Abe had launched two elements of his "Abenomics" policy package -- massive fiscal stimulus and a flood of easy money.

A third element, structural reform, has faced resistance from the powerful farm lobby within his own LDP.

'Bottom up,' says opposition

The secretary general of the opposition DJP, Yukio Edano, said his party would try to persuade voters to oppose Abe's "trickle down" policies that critics say favor the rich and big firms.

DJP leader Banri Kaieda said: "We can't have the [rich-poor] gap widen. We can't give him a blank cheque for another four years."

Survey results published by the Asahi newspaper on Friday showed Abe's personal support level among voters at 39 percent, the lowest since he took office in 2012.

However, measured in terms of proportional representation districts, support for his LDP stood at 37 percent, compared to 13 percent for the DPJ.

ipj/pfd (Reuters, AP, APF)