Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was poised to dissolve Japan's parliament Friday, setting the stage for elections next month that will likely result in a weak coalition government with differing policies on the country's economic woes, territorial disputes and other problems.
Polls show that nearly half of the electorate is undecided on which party to support but it's clear that the ruling Democrats – in power for the last three years – are very likely to lose. That sets the stage for Japan to get its seventh prime minister in seven years.
Media reports say the elections will be held Dec. 16.
Although the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which led Japan for most of the post-World War II era, would win the most seats in the 480-seat lower house, it would fall far short of a majority if elections were held now, according to the polls.
With no party a clear winner, Japan will end up with a coalition government made up of parties with differing policies and priorities. This could hinder decision-making as Japan wrestles with a two-decade economic slump, cleanup from last year's nuclear disaster, growing national debt and a rapidly aging population – not to mention a festering territorial dispute with China that is hurting business ties with its biggest trading partner.
“It's unlikely that the election will result in a clear mandate for anybody,'' said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University. ``So in that sense, there's still going to be a lot of muddling through.''
Japan must also decide whether it will follow through with plans to phase out nuclear power by 2040 _ a move many in the LDP oppose.
In a sudden turn of events, Noda abruptly said Wednesday in a one-on-one debate with LDP chief Shinzo Abe that he would dissolve parliament Friday if the opposition would agree to key reforms, including shrinking the size of parliament.
Abe, who said his party would go along with the measures, could get a second stab at being prime minister after his one-year stint in 2006-2007 if the LDP wins the most seats in the election.
A staunch nationalist, Abe has taken a strong stance against China in the dispute over a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. Abe suddenly quit as prime minister in 2007, citing health problems