In a testy debate with opposition leader Shinzo Abe, Noda said he would go ahead with the move in exchange for cooperation on a bill to shrink the size of parliament. Officials from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) quickly said they would agree to the deal.
The apparent agreement sets up Japan for yet another leadership change, its seventh in seven years, and adds to the uncertainty in a region where China’s Communist Party is promoting a new guard and South Korea is preparing for a close presidential election next month.
Noda had promised in August to call elections “soon,” but until Wednesday he had remained vague about the timetable, hoping his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) could recapture some of the popularity it has squandered over the past three years. That did not happen. Polls conducted by major Japanese newspapers show the party with approval ratings in the low teens.
“I can dissolve the parliament November 16,” Noda told Abe, the front-runner to become the next prime minister.
“It’s a promise, a promise, right?” Abe said. “We’ll let the people decide.”
After being swept into power in 2009, the DPJ abandoned some of its key populist pledges, stumbled during its response to natural and nuclear disasters in 2011, and saw the defection of key members during a recent contentious debate over a tax increase. Ultimately, political analysts say, it did not differentiate itself from the LDP, the party it had replaced. Like top LDP leaders, Noda is hawkish toward China and reluctant to abandon nuclear power.
The LDP still has not recaptured the popularity it had during half a century of near-uninterrupted rule, but the party’s approval rating — 24 percent, according to a recent Yomiuri newspaper poll — should be enough to return it to power, provided it forms a coalition. Abe, as party president, will then become prime minister for a second time, following a stint from 2006 and 2007.
Under Japanese law, elections must be held within 40 days of a lower house dissolution.