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Speculation Rife About Japan Poll
[Analysis] The crucial general election appears most likely to come sometime around next summer
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-25 03:23 (KST)   
This is the third part of a four-part article. Read the second part.  <Editor's Note>
Meanwhile, speculation is rife in political circles about the timing of the next general election. The Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition, still reeling from its devastating electoral defeat in July, wants to delay the next lower house election as much as possible. To be sure, the Democratic Party of Japan, emboldened by its newly acquired status as the upper house's largest party, has been publicly clamoring for an immediate general election. Fukuda is widely expected to call an early poll, but the DPJ itself is not prepared for such an election because of a slower-than-planned pace of progress in drawing up its list of candidates.

As things stand, the election appears most likely to come sometime around next summer, after Japan hosts an annual summit of the Group of Eight major nations -- the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan -- at the Lake Toya hot spring resort in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido in early July.

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Fukuda has denied the possibility of dissolving the House of Representatives for a general election before the Diet approves the fiscal 2008 budget bill early in the year. "I have to think about various situations before exercising the right of dissolution. First of all, we have to compile the budget and then there will be [Diet] deliberations on it. These should be done properly so as not to affect the lives of the people," Fukuda said on Dec. 14. He also said he cannot do such things as dissolving the lower house "in the middle of the summit," strongly indicating that he is eyeing a dissolution after the G-8 meeting.

The hope will be to score a diplomatic coup at the summit, helping to shore up his ruling coalition's sagging fortunes. The fight against climate change, development assistance, especially for Africa, the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, and economic issues, including spikes in oil prices and the subprime loan crisis, are expected to top the G-8 summit agenda.

Aside from the election timing, recent opinion polls show the public's support for the Fukuda cabinet has plummeted, casting an even darker cloud over his and his ruling coalition's political fortunes.

A mid-December opinion poll by the nation's largest business daily, Nikkei, showed the cabinet's approval rating nose-diving 12 points from the previous survey in November to 43 percent. The cabinet's disapproval rating surged 13 percentage points to 46 percent. It is the first time that the disapproval rating has surpassed the approval numbers since Fukuda inaugurated his cabinet, Nikkei reported. Another survey conducted by Kyodo news agency at the same time, showed the cabinet's approval rating plunging 11.7 percentage points from November to 35.3 percent. The Nikkei survey also showed that 38 percent of those polled support the LDP, down 4 percentage points from November, while 34 percent of participants support the DPJ, up 6 percentage points.

The Fukuda cabinet's declining approval rating is widely believed to reflect growing public outrage over the pension defense scandals. The pension scandal was a key factor behind the LDP-led coalition's pounding in the July upper house election. The Social Insurance Agency, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, was found earlier this year to have some 50 million unidentified pension premium-payment records. This means many retirees could get shortchanged. The pension issue has angered many Japanese at a time when they are increasingly concerned about the nation's creaking social security system amid the rapid aging of society.

The LDP-New Komeito coalition contested the July upper house election on a pledge to completely resolve the pension fiasco by next March. But the government has virtually thrown in the towel recently. The Social Insurance Agency acknowledged this month that it is facing difficulties identifying, via its computer system, the holders of around 19.75 million, or 38.8 percent, of the approximately 50 million unidentified accounts. Fukuda himself stoked public anger this month when he questioned whether the government's inability to completely resolve the pension blunder by next March could be considered a breach of the campaign pledge made by the ruling coalition, then led by Abe, in July's upper house election.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the third part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times on Dec.22. The fourth -- and last -- part will come later.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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