| 23 October 2021, Saturday |

Japan dissolves parliament, setting stage for general election

On Thursday, Japan’s parliament was dissolved, setting the way for a vote at the end of the month that would pit new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida against unpopular opposition in a contest over who can best heal the country’s pandemic-ravaged economy.

Polls suggest that 11 days into his employment, Kishida has a reasonable level of popular support, which bodes well for his goal of keeping a lower house majority for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the Komeito party.

Kishida told reporters gathered at his office, “I want to use the election to tell the people what we’re trying to do and what we’re aiming for.”

“I’ve had a really hectic schedule but weirdly, I’m not feeling exhausted — I’m feeling fulfilled,” Kishida remarked of the past 11 days.

Voters will be looking for an administration that has strategies in place to halt the pandemic and rebuild the economy. According to a recent Sankei newspaper poll, around 48% of people want the Kishida administration to focus on the coronavirus, followed by economic recovery and employment.

Kishida’s party is promoting his push for coronavirus measures including supplying oral antiviral medication this year, as well as his vision of realizing a “new capitalism” that focuses on economic growth and redistribution of wealth.

In light of China’s more confrontational posture toward Taiwan, the ruling party has also asked for a significant increase in defense spending to obtain the capability to destroy ballistic missiles.

The major opposition party, the Constitutional Democrats (CDPJ), led by Yukio Edano, has made a point of supporting same-sex marriage and giving couples distinct surnames.

The LDP is still socially conservative, and while there has been progress on LGBTQ rights in society, Kishida has stated that he opposes same-sex marriage.

The biggest challenge for Constitutional Democrats is their low support ratings. A recent poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found only 13% were planning to vote for them, far behind the LDP’s 47%; most other polls record support in the single digits.

Also, Kishida’s focus on redistribution and economic growth has blurred policy differences between the LDP and CDPJ.

Edano said his party, if it were to take power, would go straight to wealth distribution to kickstart growth.

“‘Wage hikes and distribution once growth is achieved.’ This is what (former prime minister Shinzo) Abe was saying. But there was no growth over the past eight, nine years and no wage hikes,” Edano told reporters. “If we don’t distribute wealth first, no growth is achieved. This is a rather clear difference (between the two parties).”

Canvassing in many districts is already underway but formally the campaign will kick off on Oct. 19, followed by the vote on Oct. 31. Kishida is expected to hold a news conference Thursday night.