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Japan heading to the polls again to elect seventh PM in six years

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda attends a lower house plenary session at the parliament in Tokyo, Nov. 16, 2012.


Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament Friday for an election next month, in a political gamble widely expected to strip his centre-left party of power.

Japan's sixth new prime minister in as many years set the revolving door of premiership spinning against resistance from his fragmenting party, but after having stared down his opponents over crucial legislation.

"I want to seek a mandate from the people," Mr. Noda told reporters in the morning as he arrived at the prime minister's office ahead of a cabinet meeting.

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The dissolution itself was a brief affair, with the lower house speaker reading a short promulgation prepared by the premier and endorsed by Emperor Akihito, the constitutional head of state.

An extraordinary meeting of the cabinet was to be held later Friday, at which Dec. 16 is expected to be formally announced as election day.

Mr. Noda has been under pressure to call elections for months and offered dissolution of the main decision-making chamber in a parliamentary debate earlier this week.

He managed along the way to secure a number of concessions from his opponents – key among them an agreement on a deficit-financing bill allowing the government to issue bonds to cover its debts this financial year, without which Japan would have effectively run out of money at the end of this month.

That bill passed the opposition-controlled upper house on Friday morning.

Mr. Noda's own ill-disciplined Democratic Party of Japan is anything but united on the need for an election.

Poor poll numbers, voter disillusionment, increasing tensions with China, the slow pace of recovery from the tsunami of March 2011 and a plodding economy mean many in the DPJ fear for their seats.

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Since Wednesday's debate the number of parliamentarians jumping ship has accelerated. Having had almost two-thirds of the 480 lower house seats when they came to power in 2009, the party had lost its majority by Friday morning.

Chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura defended the DPJ's track record, saying ties with the United States had been strengthened over the last three years. He insisted efforts had been made to recover from tsunami.

"In addition, the bill to reform social welfare and the tax system was passed by parliament," he said, referring to Mr. Noda's flagship and hard-fought legislation that will double sales tax to help tame Japan's ballooning deficit.

Commentators say no single party will have the numbers to govern alone after the election, with an untidy coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and smaller fringe parties seen as a likely outcome.

Octogenarian former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who established his Party of the Sun this week, met Friday with iconoclastic Osaka mayor, Toru Hashimoto, the leader of the recently-launched Japan Restoration Party.

Kyodo News cited sources close to Mr. Hashimoto's party saying the pair would meet again to thrash out a deal on Saturday as they look to narrow their policy differences and forge a "third pole" between the two largest parties.

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"The focus will be on how many seats the third force, led by Hashimoto, will gain. They may have a balance of power, depending upon election results," said Koji Nakakita, professor of politics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

He added that the LDP may seek to shore up its alliance with New Komeito, a centrist Buddhist grouping.

Financial markets have begun preparing for an LDP-led government with the yen softening markedly after leader Shinzo Abe called for "unlimited easing" by the Bank of Japan.

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