Japan to hold general election on December 16

TOKYO - Japan will hold a general election on December 16, a senior governing party official confirmed Wednesday, putting an end to months of speculation over the date of polls.

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) deputy party secretary general Jun Azumi told broadcaster NHK that the country would be going to the polls next month.

"We will quickly draft our campaign platform, as the official campaign will start on December 4," Azumi said, referring to the start of a 12-day period that will come ahead of polling day.

Azumi's confirmation came after a showdown in parliament between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and opposition leader Shinzo Abe in which the premier said he would dissolve the house on Friday if he got pledges on electoral reform.

Abe, a former prime minister and recently re-elected leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) stalled during the debate, but said later in the day: "I will fully cooperate in Prime Minister Noda's proposal."

LDP secretary general Shigeru Ishiba told reporters that senior party officials "had decided to cooperate, taking seriously the prime minister's comment", Jiji Press said.

A promise on electoral reform was one of the conditions Noda has publicly set in order to call an election.

Imbalances within electoral districts that leave rural voters with a disproportionate say in who goes to parliament must be sorted out if Japan is to avoid legal challenges to election results.

The passage of legislation that will allow the government to borrow more money and pay bills that are due this financial year was another of Noda's conditions.

Agreement on that issue was reached Tuesday.

Azumi told NHK that Noda had put country before party in working out the timing of the ballot.

"It is not a schedule that benefits our party. But the prime minister made his decision, thinking of the national interest first," he said.

"There was tense opposition in our party against parliamentary dissolution.

"We must be strong. Unless we stay strong, changes of the government cannot happen in the future."

Opinion polls in recent months have made dismal reading for Noda, with public support leaching away from his fragmenting party.

The DPJ came to power in 2009 on a wave of optimism, sweeping the long-ruling LDP aside, but has suffered in office from policy flip-flops and weak leadership.

The party is thought likely to come off badly in an election, with voters angry about Noda's pet legislative achievement: the doubling of sales tax over the next few years.

The move was widely believed to be a sensible first step on the road to plugging Japan's debt hole and eventually attracted cross-party support, but his opponents managed to make most of the electoral muck stick to the premier.

But the LDP, a largely conservative party that nonetheless has a diverse parliamentary membership, has been unable to capitalise on the DPJ's unpopularity.

Most observers say the signs point to an election without a clear result and say a field of recently-sprouted smaller parties is likely to lead to a messy coalition.

However, some commentators point out that newly-established parties may struggle to get their political machines moving in time for a mid-December poll and they may fail to make much of a mark.

Irascible former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara presented his Party of the Sun on Tuesday, commandeering an already-established small party of right-leaning lawmakers and taking the average age of its politicians to 73.5.

Maverick mayor of Osaka Toru Hashimoto took his regional party national in September, with the intention of fielding 350 candidates for the Japan Restoration Party.

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