Ja­pan premier Abe dis­solves par­lia­ment

Tempo - - News - (AFP)

TOKYO – Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of­fi­cially dis­solved par­lia­ment yes­ter­day, ef­fec­tively kick­ing off a na­tional elec­tion cam­paign where he faces an un­ex­pected and for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge from the pop­u­lar gover­nor of Tokyo.

Mem­bers of the lower house raised their arms and shouted ''Ban­zai'' three times – the Ja­panese equiv­a­lent of ''three cheers'' – af­ter the speaker read out a let­ter from Abe of­fi­cially dis­solv­ing the cham­ber.

Vot­ers in the world's third­biggest econ­omy will go to the polls on Oc­to­ber 22, as Abe seeks a fresh pop­u­lar man­date for his hard­line stance on North Korea and a new tax plan.

''A dif­fi­cult bat­tle starts today,'' Abe told re­porters, shak­ing his fist.

''This is an elec­tion about how to pro­tect the lives of peo­ple,'' said the premier. ''We have to co­op­er­ate with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity as we face the threat from North Korea.''

Abe asked for pub­lic support for his ''strong diplo­macy'' on North Korea, which has threat­ened to ''sink'' Ja­pan into the sea and fired mis­siles over its north­ern Hokkaido is­land twice in the space of a month.

''We need to fight for our chil­dren's fu­ture.''

Abe stunned Ja­pan on Mon­day with a sur­prise call for a snap elec­tion, seek­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on a weak op­po­si­tion and a boost in the polls, as vot­ers wel­come his hawk­ish North Korea pol­icy.

But Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has up­ended Ja­panese pol­i­tics in re­cent days, steal­ing Abe's lime­light with her newly launched “Party of Hope” that seeks to shake up the coun­try's lethar­gic po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

Koike's new party, for­mally un­veiled Wed­nes­day, has at­tracted an in­flux of law­mak­ers from a wide range of ide­o­log­i­cal back­grounds and could unify op­po­si­tion to Abe, pre­sent­ing Ja­panese vot­ers with a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to the premier.

The head of the main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party pro­posed to mem­bers that the DP should not run can­di­dates in the Oc­to­ber 22 poll and that they were free to join Koike's new group.

For the mo­ment, al­though Koike is lead­ing the party, she is not run­ning for a seat in par­lia­ment, pre­fer­ring to con­cen­trate on gov­ern­ing the world's most pop­u­lous city in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic Games.

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