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Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2008
Extra budget first, general election later: Aso
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Taro Aso said Monday he is not considering dissolving the Lower House for now, as the Diet began deliberations on the ¥1.8 trillion extra budget.
The remark is another sign that Aso has grown hesitant about calling an election, given the lower-than-expected opinion poll ratings for his Cabinet and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
"The people's main concern is anxiety over the future of the economy," Aso told the Lower House Budget Committee in comments aired nationally by NHK.
"Having the Lower House deliberate and pass the extra budget should come first," he said. "I am not considering dissolution at this moment."
The prime minister has the sole right to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap election.
Aso, who was elected prime minister at the end of September, was expected to quickly dissolve the chamber and call an election as early as this month to take advantage of the freshness of his new team.
But political insiders now believe that an election won't be held until mid-November.
Several factors may have changed Aso's mind, among them the global financial crisis and the embarrassing resignation of transport minister Nariaki Nakayama just four days after his appointment.
In addition, the results of the LDP's own pre-election survey were reportedly unfavorable, and even hinted that it was due for another crushing defeat if an early poll were to be held.
During the session Monday, Aso restated his intent to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling support mission in the Indian Ocean — a move that could also push back the election.
In order for the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc to pass the mission-extension bill in a divided Diet where the opposition parties control the Upper House, the coalition would need go through lengthy deliberations and procedures, including a second vote in the Lower House to use its two-thirds majority to force passage of the legislation.
"All countries have the determination to fight the long battle — the war to wipe out terrorism," Aso said, noting that no one can predict who will be the next target of terrorists or when they will strike.
"In that sense, we must fight till the end, and it is unthinkable that Japan would be the only country to pull out."
However, opposition lawmakers, top executives of New Komeito and even some LDP lawmakers are still pressuring Aso to call an election.
During Monday's committee proceedings, LDP lawmaker Taku Yamamoto also urged Aso to hold a poll forthwith.
"Personally, I have already begun to prepare, so I would like the election to be held as early as possible," Yamamoto said.