TokYO Kyodo - - Fumio Kishida dissolved the House of Representatives for a public election at the end of the month as he seeks a general mandate for his government just last week.
The election, with the coronavirus response and the economic policies to the fore, will be held on Oct. 31 after the four-year term of Lower House Members expires on 21 October.
The Liberal Democratic Party headed by Kishida is hoping to capitalize on a recent decline in COVID - 19 cases while opposition leaders are scrambling to create a united front.
It is the first time in Japanese postwar history that a general election will be held after lawmakers term is expired, and the period between the dissolution of the lower house and voting day will be the shortest.
House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima announced the dissolution in a plenary session, prompting lawmakers of the lower chamber to stand up and shout banzai as they lost their seats.
The official campaign for the 2018 presidential election starts on Tuesday.
Kishida asked for the support of his fellow LDP members after the dissolution, saying: We are expecting a tough battle and we are fighting it out together. Yukio Edano, leader of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the ruling party's coronavirus reaction as always running back behind. Are we going to change the government itself?
For Kishida, who won the LDP leadership race on Sept. 29 and was appointed Prime Minister on 4 October by parliament, which is controlled by the LDP coalition, the general election will be a chance to secure wider public support for his policies focused on promoting the coronavirus response and reviving the third-largest economy hit by the pandemic.
Of the 465 seats in the lower house, 310 seats were won by the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito at the last election in October 2017. Kishida says the ruling coalition is seeking to win at least 233 seats this time.
A Kyodo News poll last month showed 44.5 percent of respondents were planning to cast ballots for the LDP in the proportional representation section, while 14.9 said they would vote for the CDPJ.
Kishida, advocating what he calls a new capitalism, has promised to roll out an economic package worth tens of trillions of yen and redistribute the fruits of growth in an attempt to build a stronger middle class. He has said in recent days that Japan needs to first achieve an economic expansion.
Kishida committed also to bolstering the government's response to COVID - 19 while laying out plans for a review of security strategy and promoting an increasingly assertive Indo-Pacific in the face of an increasingly assertive China and North Korean missile threat.
In facing the powerful ruling party and Komeito, the CDPJ and three other opposition parties - the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi - have tried to join forces.
They came up with a set of joint pledges last month, including increasing the consumption tax and floating taxes on the rich, while seeking to jointly back single candidates in constituencies in a bid to raise chances winning seats, although there are still areas in which they have yet to agree, such as candidates.
Kishida is also not in the best shape as Yoshihide Suga was shown about his cabinet shortly after its launch at 55.7 percent in Kyodo poll, short of 66.4 percent for his predecessor on September 27, 2013.
It remains uncertain whether Shinzo Abe can bring about a change as key appointments in his cabinet were handed out to people with close ties to former prime minister Kishida, suggesting a radical policy shift from recent administrations is unlikely.
Kishida's pledge to reduce wealth disparities has already come into question after he backed down on his plan to consider raising the capital gains tax rate.
The CDPJ has stressed that Japan will not be able to achieve steady economic growth and poverty reduction if there is no redistribution of wealth first.
The party is vowing to increase taxes on rich individuals and small companies while lowering the burden on low- and middle-income households.
The CDPJ is calling for the temporary lowering of the consumption tax from the present 10 percent to 5 percent and effectively exempting people who earn less than 10 million yen annually from paying income tax.