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Japan's Abe announces plan to dissolve lower house for snap election amid controversy, criticism
Last Updated: 2017-09-26 08:12 | Xinhua
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JAPAN-TOKYO-PM-PRESS CONFERENCE

Japanese Prime MinisterShinzo Abeattends a press conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Sept. 25, 2017. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced officially at a press conference on Monday that he will dissolve the House of Representatives when it convenes Thursday to pave way for a general election. (Xinhua)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced at a press conference on Monday that he will dissolve the House of Representatives when it convenes Thursday to pave way for a general election next month.

The prime minister cited the need to seek a fresh mandate to overcome "a national crisis" caused by "the biggest challenge facing Japan, which is the population aging and low birthrate," as well as security challenges.

He said that he would seek mandate from the people for shifting the usage of part of the revenue generated by a consumption tax hike that has been delayed until 2019 from paying debt to welfare policies.

He also said that he would seek public support for a tougher stance over the Korea Peninsula issue.

Abe's decision to call for a snap election, however, has drawn staunch criticism from opposition parties, which argued that there is no reason to dissolve the lower house of parliament before its current term expires in December 2018.

"The tax hike won't happen until two years later. What has it to do with dissolving the lower house now?" said Seiji Maehara, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party.

He added that the reason Abe cited for dissolving the lower house is not convincing, and that the prime minister is just trying to avoid further grilling on favoritism scandals.

Abe has been under fire for his connection with nationalist private school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which purchased a piece of state-owned land in Osaka for only a fraction of the market price.

He has also been accused of using his influence to make the government choose Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of Abe's, to open a new department in a government- designated special economic zone.

Ichiro Ozawa, representative of the Liberal Party, said that the prime minister's sudden decision to dissolve the lower house is groundless, and is making a fool of the people and a mockery of democracy.

Seiji Mataichi, secretary general of Social Democratic Party, said that the prime minister is abusing his power to dissolve the lower house for his own agenda.

Abe's platform of using revenue generated by the consumption tax hike for welfare policies instead of paying debt, has also raised concerns over further deterioration of Japan's fiscal health, with the nation's debt already twice the size of its gross domestic product.

Abe admitted at the press conference that achieving primary budget surplus in fiscal 2020, a long-standing target for the government, will be difficult.

He then unveiled a plan for the government to compile a policy package worth 2 trillion yen (18 billion U.S. dollars) by the end of this year to boost support for child care and education, saying that fostering human resources and improving productivity would be two pillars of his cabinet's policies.

The policy package would include measures to make preschool education and day care services free for children aged between three and five and reduce the financial burdens for higher education, according to Abe.

Local analysts warned that increased social spendings would make the long-standing goal of achieving a primary budget surplus by fiscal 2020 impossible.

There have also been criticisms saying that Abe tries to stay in power regardless of the risks of creating a political vacuum at a time of rising geopolitical tensions over the Korea Peninsula.

Local analysts said Abe is trying to take advantage of the recent recovery in his support ratings after a plunge due to the favoritism scandals, while the opposition parties are not yet prepared for an election.

According to a survey conducted over the weekend by Kyodo News, 64.3 percent of the respondents said they do not support the prime minister's plan to call a snap election, while 23.7 percent expressed support.

About 78.8 percent of the respondents said they are not satisfied with the government's explanation on the recent favoritism scandals, while only 13.8 percent said the opposite.

Shortly before Abe announced his plan to dissolve the lower house, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she is establishing a new political party at the national level and that the party will be called "Kibou no To," which means Party of Hope in English.

Koike's Tomin First no Kai's (Tokyoites First party) has won a sweeping victory over Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly race in July, which is widely regarded as a barometer for the future direction of national politics.

The snap election is slated for Oct. 22, with the official campaigning beginning on Oct. 10.

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