Japan’s New Premier Could Seek October Vote, Minister Says

Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said he expects a general election in October, contradicting comments from the man expected to become the next prime minister, who indicated the poll would come later.

Kono, tipped as a future Japanese leader, made the comments Wednesday in an online forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Speculation over an early election was fueled by a leap in support for ailing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet in polls released in the past week, just as Yoshihide Suga emerged as the favorite to succeed him.

Japan’s New Premier Could Seek October Vote, Minister Says

Suga, widely expected to be selected as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party next week as Abe steps down for health reasons, said Tuesday the country was not in a situation for a general election, given the virus outbreak. The LDP is expected to use its majority in parliament to elect Suga, the right-hand man to Abe, as prime minister on Sept. 16.

Election timing is the prerogative of the prime minister and none need be held for about another year. Polls have shown most people oppose the idea of a vote before the end of 2020.

The LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, has expressed caution over the idea of an early election. Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said earlier this week that dealing with the coronavirus should be the priority, national broadcaster NHK reported.

A newly unified opposition elected Yukio Edano, who headed the largest bloc member, as its leader Thursday in a bid to offer a more compelling alternative and a stronger push in campaigns. The enlarged Constitutional Democratic Party has 149 members in both houses of parliament, compared with the LDP’s almost 400.

The LDP, which has governed Japan almost continuously since 1955, is virtually guaranteed to keep its majority in the next election due to a large slate of incumbents, strong funding and a public support rate well ahead of the opposition’s.

Japan’s second wave of virus cases has been tailing off in recent weeks, with about 500 new infections reported Sept. 9, about a third of levels seen a month earlier. The economic effects have been dire, with the country experiencing its worst contraction on record in the April-June quarter.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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