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World News

Exclusive: Japan ruling coalition partner Komeito indicates it does not want snap election

TOKYO (Reuters) - The leader of the Japanese ruling coalition’s junior partner, Komeito, indicated on Wednesday his party does not want a snap general election after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) picks a new leader to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

FILE PHOTO: Komeito Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi attends a debate session with other party leaders ahead of July 21 upper house election at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Japan July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“The top priority is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. People want to get back to business and return to work, and I don’t believe they want a power vacuum of a month or two that would result from calling an election,” Natsuo Yamaguchi told Reuters in an interview.

Komeito, backed by Japan’s largest Buddhist lay group, provides crucial election support to the ruling party by encouraging its members to campaign for LDP candidates.

Without its backing, the next LDP leader, who by dint of the LDP’s parliamentary majority is almost certain of becoming prime minister, is unlikely to dissolve the assembly.

Yamaguchi’s comments come amid speculation that the front runner to win the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP’s) leadership election on Sept. 14, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, could call a snap election.

Suga has said his priority is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but he signalled there was a chance of calling a snap election in an interview published by the Asahi newspaper.

An early election could heighten expectations the government would lay out additional pandemic spending measures to appeal to voters.

Data released on Tuesday showed Japan’s economy sank deeper into its worst post-war contraction in the second quarter, underscoring the challenges the next prime minister faces in dealing with COVID-19.

“Komeito has strongly argued that the top priority is to halt the coronavirus and to revive social and economic activity,” Yamaguchi said.

STRIKE DETERRENCE

The Komeito leader also questioned whether Japan needed strike weapons to deter North Korea or other adversaries from launching missile or air attacks on Japan.

This is a major policy change and requires public discussion and consensus building. None of that has started yet,” said Yamaguchi. “This is something that has to be though about seriously under the next prime minister,” he added.

Before announcing he would step down because of illness, Abe asked his National Security Council (NSC) to look at ways Japan could bolster it defences, including a proposal from the LDP for the country to consider strike weapons that could target enemy bases.

The NSC was due to provide an outline of those discussions this month, followed by a plan for national security changes by the end of the year.

Reporting by Tim Kelly and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Kim Coghill

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