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Japan PM Abe plans snap election on December 14: media

Shinzo Abe

Tokyo, Nov 15 (AFP): Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to hold snap elections on December 14, two years ahead of schedule, as he seeks to bolster his public support by delaying another scheduled tax hike, reports said today.

Abe is expected to announce his decision at a press conference on Tuesday, according to major media, including the Yomiuri Shimbun. The development comes as the Abe government moves to postpone a consumption tax hike to 10.0 per cent from the current 8.0 per cent amid a series of weak economic indicators fuelling fears of a recession.

The tax hike was originally scheduled for October 2015, but the government wants to delay it until April 2017 to safeguard fragile recovery, according to local media. Abe’s decision would cut short the current four-year term of the powerful lower house, which is scheduled to expire in December 2016.

The premier wanted an early election while opposition parties remain weak after the ruling party’s spectacular election victory two years ago, pundits said. Abe also wanted to put a national election behind him before he pushes unpopular bills such as those related to expanding roles of Japanese military, Kyodo News said.

Japan raised the consumption tax from 5.0 per cent to 8.0 per cent in April in a bid to sustain the greying nation’s vast pension system while slowing the growth of its public debts.

Under the law, the tax was going to rise again to 10 per cent from October 2015, but the law also stipulated that the government must take measures to protect the economy, including stopping the tax increase.

Economists have for years said that Japan needs to increase the consumption tax to reduce its enormous national debt. But the earlier tax hike discouraged consumer spending, and fuelled fears that the second hike could smother that recovery out altogether, and hurt Abe politically.

Abe has said he would decide whether to raise the tax after reviewing the July-September economic growth data, to be released on Monday, while the prospect for the second tax hike became increasingly unpopular among voters.

Government officials could not be reached for comment today. Abe, currently in Australia for the Group of 20 meeting, will return home on Monday and confer with his ruling coalition partner, said the Sankei and the Mainichi.

He will order drafting of an additional budget on Tuesday, before announcing his decision to dissolve the lower house, the Mainichi said.

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