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Abe to dissolve lower house Thurs. for general election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of his Liberal
Democratic Party on Monday that he will dissolve the House of
Representatives when it convenes Thursday, a senior LDP member said,
paving the way for a general election expected in late October.

The prime minister is scheduled to hold a press conference at 6
p.m., at which he is expected to formally announce the dissolution.

Abe, who is the president of the ruling LDP, will seek a fresh
mandate on his security polices amid growing North Korean threats as
well as on welfare, pledging to review how to spend revenue from a
consumption tax hike in 2019 for expanding child support and slow
down the pace of paying down government debt.

The election is to be held on Oct. 22 with official campaigning
beginning Oct. 10, Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior
coalition partner Komeito, told reporters after a meeting with Abe on
Monday afternoon.

Yamaguchi said he had not discussed with Abe a specific goal for
the election, but they "would need to at least secure a majority as
the ruling coalition in order to maintain this administration."

Before speaking to LDP executives and Yamaguchi, Abe told a
meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy he plans to
launch a 2 trillion yen ($17.8 billion) economic plan, centering on
free preschool education and other social support.

Abe said the tax hike revenue will be used to fund that plan,
but insisted the government will look to rebuild the country's
finances at the same time.

Opposition parties have criticized Abe's expected decision,
arguing there is no reason for an early dissolution of the lower
chamber before the current term expires in December 2018 and
describing the move as an attempt to avoid grilling over cronyism
allegations leveled at the prime minister in Diet deliberations.

But Komeito's Yamaguchi defended the call, saying after his
meeting with Abe that the decision to use the consumption tax hike
revenue in a different way than originally promised justifies
renewing the administration's mandate from the public.

The Democratic Party and other opposition parties have started
advancing their preparation for the election, exploring the
possibility of promoting electoral cooperation to counter the ruling
bloc.

Shortly before Abe told LDP members of his dissolution plan,
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said she is establishing a new national-level
political party called the "Kibo" (Hope) party.

Her announcement put an end to weeks of speculation about the
outcome of negotiations between Masaru Wakasa, an independent lower
house lawmaker and ally to Koike, and defectors from other parties,
including Goshi Hosono, a former environment minister who recently
left the Democratic Party.

Koike, who was herself a Diet member with the LDP before running
for governor, indicated the new party will field candidates
nationwide. She said she will continue her gubernatorial duties
alongside the party's activities.

Japanese voters will be given two ballots: one for a candidate
in their electoral district, and one proportional representation vote
with which parties elect members off lists divided into regional
blocks.

Asked in a Kyodo News nationwide poll over the weekend which
party would get their proportional representation vote, 27.0 percent
said the LDP, 8.0 percent said the Democratic Party and 4.6 percent
said Komeito.

Some 42.2 percent said they have yet to decide which party to
vote for, while 6.2 percent said they would support the new party
being organized by the Koike camp -- although this was before she
announced that she would be its leader. (Sept. 25)