By Antoni Slodkowski and Leika Kihara
TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga intends to dissolve the lower house of parliament in mid-September after a reshuffle of the ruling party executive and his cabinet next week, Mainichi newspaper said late on Tuesday, citing senior government sources.
Suga will delay the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader contest originally slated for Sept. 29 until after the general election, said Mainichi, adding that the premier is considering holding the election on Oct. 17.
The report comes after several days of tense negotiations and sudden twists involving Suga and the most powerful politicians in the ruling camp as the unpopular prime minister manoeuvres to stay in the top job.
Earlier on Tuesday media said Suga planned to replace long-term party ally instrumental in helping him succeed Shinzo Abe last September, Toshihiro Nikai, in the key party post of Secretary General.
Some parliamentarians have voiced their unease with the amount of power wielded by Nikai, 82, who has held the post, with control over campaign funds, since August 2016 – the longest in the party’s history.
Suga’s rival for the party leader, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, sparked ire from Nikai after he proposed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-suga-faces-likely-challenge-sept-29-party-poll-2021-08-25 limits on executive posts and promised to promote young and middle-level lawmakers over heavyweights last week.
A plan has emerged within the administration to convene an extraordinary session of parliament Sept. 14-16 and dissolve the lower house, Mainichi said.
It added that Suga decided to dissolve the lower house to move the LDP leadership race to after the election as he has struggled to solidify support in the party and opponents like Kishida were likely to gather votes of those opposing the PM.
Suga will instruct his party and government to craft economic stimulus measures and an extra budget to help fund them within the week, Kyodo reported, citing an unnamed senior ruling party official.
Suga’s move to replace Nikai “without a doubt” was aimed at helping him win the backing of party grandees, such as Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, and Finance Minister Taro Aso, said Corey Wallace, assistant professor at Kanagawa University.
“It’s about the use of party funds and distributing party posts,” Wallace said. “Nikai wasn’t particularly popular inside the party and I don’t think anybody would’ve tolerated him any longer after his record-long run.”
Abe’s stance will be closely watched given his influence inside two largest factions of the LDP – his own Hosoda group and the second-largest faction led by Aso – as well as among the conservative wing of the LDP, experts say.
Suga’s support ratings are at record lows as he failed to capitalise on delivering the Olympics for the country, being hit hard by a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The government has declared a fourth state of emergency in most of Japan amid a sluggish vaccination rollout.
The LDP and its allies are not expected to lose their coalition majority in the powerful lower house, but forecasts suggest that Suga’s party could lose its outright majority, an outcome that would weaken whoever is leading the LDP.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Antoni Slodkowski; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Daniel Leussink and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Stephen Coates, Gerry Doyle, Nick Macfie and David Gregorio)