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Politics

Japanese PM sets date for promised early elections

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has announced that he will dissolve Japan's parliament on Friday in preparation for early elections in December. The beleaguered premier is unlikely to fancy his chances in the vote.

Yoshihiko Noda has called an early election in Japan, even though doing so is unlikely to favor the prime minister or his ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

"I will dissolve the lower house Friday," Noda said, with the dissolution of a parliament a first step on the path to the polls.

Party leaders subsequently said the country's traditional 12-day campaigning period would begin on December 4, marking out December 16 by extension as the date of the general election.

Prime Minister Noda had already promised in August to hold an election "soon" in order to secure opposition support on legislation to increase the country's sales tax. In a parliamentary debate on Wednesday he pledged to dissolve parliament and set the wheels in motion in exchange for opposition support on a financing bill and on proposed electoral reform.

Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which ruled almost uninterrupted for half a century before the DPJ swept to power in 2009, agreed to these terms.

The DPJ portrayed the policy changes, some of which enable the heavily indebted country to take out further loans and to meet upcoming repayment deadlines, as a national priority so pressing as to warrant the early vote.

"It is not a schedule that benefits our party," DPJ deputy secretary general Jun Azumi told the NHK broadcaster. "But the prime minister made his decision, thinking of the national interest first. There was tense opposition in our party against the parliamentary dissolution."

Return to the old guard on the cards

Opinion polls point to a difficult vote for the DPJ, with analysts predicting a coalition government led by the LDP with party leader Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister, taking up the premiership again.

Voters were unhappy with Noda's decision to re-start some nuclear reactors in a country with a traditionally heavy reliance on atomic energy, 15 months after a major earthquake and tsunami triggered the country's worst ever atomic accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The prime minister's pet policy change of increasing sales tax, a move lauded by many as a sensible step to reduce runaway government debt, has also proved something of a flop with high-street voters.

Noda, who took office in September 2011, is Japan's sixth prime minister since 2006 and the DPJ's third from their three years in power.

msh/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)