Has Aso made up his mind about an election?

In recent days Komeito has upped the intensity of its disapproval of the government’s calling a general election following the passage of its proposed stimulus package.

The LDP’s junior partner is still concerned about an overlap between the general election and the Tokyo prefectural assembly election in July, but it has added a new argument against an early election: this past week both Ota Akihiro, the party president, and Kitagawa Kazuo, the secretary-general stressed that the government should prioritize important legislation over an election, arguing that there is more work for the Diet beyond the first supplementary budget, especially the piracy countermeasures bill, budget-related bills, and the revision of the national pensions law. In fact, the Diet has enough work to do that Komeito called for extending the ordinary Diet session until the end of July, presumably to ensure that the government will have enough time to get the budget-related bills through the Diet and have them pass via Article 59 over upper house resistance. On Wednesday, both Ota and Kitagawa met with the prime minister to request an August election, suggesting a degree of urgency in the debate over the timing of a general election.

Prime Minister Aso Taro claims to be taking all opinions and insists that he is not leaning one way or another, but is the intensity of Komeito lobbying a sign that Aso has made up his mind already, that he is leaning to exploiting recent political gains and opting for an early election? His party has made its position clear. Hosoda Hiroyuki, the LDP secretary-general, said Sunday that a general election following the passage of the supplementary budget and budget-related bills, which would of course give the opposition a stake in determining the timing of the election. What Hosoda did not do was give any ground to Komeito. The two ruling parties are now on record as disagreeing on what may be the most important question facing the government. My question from last week remains unanswered: does Komeito have any leverage over the LDP in this situation — is it actually threatening to withhold Diet votes, for example? — or is it simply begging the prime minister in the hope that he’ll be solicitous of the opinions of his junior partner in government?

Meanwhile, I think Komeito’s desire to extend the Diet session to late July is a non-starter. It is easy to imagine the uproar from backbenchers of all parties if they were forced to remain in Tokyo with an election imminent. Are the LDP’s backbenchers with the party leadership on an election sooner rather than later, or are they prepared to wait until August or September, preferably with the summer free for campaigning?

After initial signs that it might bargain with the government over the supplementary budget, the DPJ has opted for outright opposition, rejecting the government’s stimulus plans as “merely camphoric baramaki” while deciding not to submit amendments to the government bill. This decision will force Aso to decide whether he will engage in a prolonged battle with the DPJ to get the stimulus package and related bills passed (ensuring that Komeito will get its wish of a delayed election) or whether he will opt for a snap election sooner rather than later. As Ozawa Ichiro said Thursday, there are only two options for the general election, early June or early August.

As for Ozawa’s own preference, while he didn’t say, I suspect he would prefer the latter, giving himself time to reintroduce himself to voters around the country and hope for another momentum shift in the DPJ’s favor.

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