Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament Tuesday, setting the stage for national elections next month that could transform the country's political power structure.
In Japan, the prime minister can decide when to disband parliament and call a general election. Aso had postponed doing so in the hope that his low approval ratings would recover, but after his party was routed in local elections last week he announced the elections for parliament's lower house would be held Aug. 30.
The country's political parties quickly shifted into election mode, holding rallies of their lawmakers. Japan's opposition leader vowed the elections would be "historic."
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has maintained a majority in the lower house for most of the past 50 years, allowing them to dominate the lawmaking process and select the prime minister and Cabinet members from party ranks.
Recent opinion polls show the next election could be different, with many voters saying they will support the opposition. This has happened repeatedly in local elections, where the Liberal Democrats have suffered a string of defeats.
"The feelings and complaints of the people have been demonstrated in the recent elections. We must sincerely reflect on this and are determined to make a fresh start," Aso told party lawmakers.
Major change coming?
At an upbeat meeting of the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, party leader Yukio Hatoyama said the election would lead to a major change in Japanese politics for the first time in decades.
"This is not just a matter of drawing the curtain on the Liberal Democrats. It is not as small as that," he said. "We must go into this election with a feeling of our historic mission."
Several recent polls have indicated broad support for the Democrats. Fifty-six percent of voters said they wanted the Democrats to take power, with just 23 percent supporting the ruling party, according to a poll published Monday in the Mainichi newspaper.
In a poll by the Asahi newspaper, 49 percent backed a new government led by the Democrats and 22 percent wanted Aso's party to stay in power.
Favoring more independence from U.S.
The Democrats favor a more independent stance from the United States, smaller government and more international peacekeeping missions for Japan's military.
The results of the Mainichi and Asahi polls, taken over the weekend, both showed support for the current Cabinet at just 17 percent, while disapproval stood just below 70 percent.
The leader of the party that wins the parliamentary election is almost certain to become prime minister. The Liberal Democrats currently have 303 seats in the powerful 480-seat lower house, and their coalition partner Komeito has 31. The Democratic Party has just 112.
All polls were random telephone surveys taken of eligible voters nationwide. The Mainichi poll had 1,045 respondents, while the Asahi poll had 1,064 and the Kyodo poll had 1,243. None provided a margin of error, but for surveys of that size, they would have a margin of error of about 3 percent.
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