TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday dispelled speculation that he was considering a snap election as early as January, amid rumours that he will soon dissolve the Lower House of Parliament.
Mr Abe told a parliamentary committee yesterday that he was not considering calling an election now, but wanted to make "the appropriate decision, at any given time".
His remarks come after his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) fanned speculation - and opened up possible dates - by pushing its annual convention back by two months to March from its usual slot at the start of the year.
The atmosphere within the party is becoming one of "constant readiness for battle", Mr Abe's close adviser Hakubun Shimomura said on Fuji TV on Sunday, adding that a January election for the Lower House was possible.
LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai last week said the party should always be prepared for an election, Kyodo News reported.
Mr Abe has incentives to act quickly. The LDP is considering a rule change that would let him stay on for a third straight term as party president after a vote in 2018.
Locking in a majority early next year would put him in position to lead Japan until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It would also give him a shot at revising Japan's post-war pacifist Constitution, a long-burning ambition that has taken a backseat to the task of reviving the world's third-biggest economy.
A convincing win for Mr Abe at the next polls could put him on track to becoming the longest-serving Japanese leader since World War II, and help bring stability to the nation.
The challenges Mr Abe faces include reviving growth and spurring inflation in the short term, as well as setting in motion policies to boost productivity and to help counter the effects of a shrinking workforce in the ageing nation.
The timing of a January poll could be auspicious. As well as solid approval ratings, Mr Abe is seeking a further boost by making progress towards a peace treaty and the resolution of a dispute with Russia over a chain of islands when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Japan in December.
The main opposition Democratic Party has also yet to make inroads into LDP support despite electing a high-profile new leader last month.
"There's about a two-thirds chance" an election will be called in January, said political analyst Hirotada Asakawa.
"The opposition is weak. There is no one to rival Abe in the LDP. Even if they lose a few seats, it is unlikely to lead to Abe's resignation," he added.