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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved Japan's parliament today, paving the way for a sudden election next month. Abe says he wants a new mandate for his efforts to jumpstart the economy, which is now technically in recession. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo, many Japanese don't understand why the election is necessary.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: With Parliament dissolved, lawmakers must hit the campaign trail to try to get reelected. But a Kyodo news agency survey this week suggests that most Japanese don't understand why Abe has called an election - one is not required until 2016. Taro Kono, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, tries to explain.
TARO KONO: We have two more years end of the current term. But I think prime minister wants to continue abenomics for a longer period and in order to do that I think he needs another four years.
KUHN: Abe's economic strategy, known as abenomics, is a combination of stimulus spending, easy credit and deregulation. Kono says the two years of abenomics have gotten Japan's economy growing again after nearly two decades of stagnation. But in April, the government raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 8 percent in hopes of reducing its massive deficits. The economy has been shrinking since then. Abe has had to put off further sales tax hikes. Entrepreneur Takahito Uezono says Abe has no choice but to call elections to restore a confidence in him and his policies.
TAKAHITO UEZONO: Even though I don't agree with all of his policy agenda, at least here's someone who's trying to do something about it more aggressively than previous prime ministers. We've been in recession too long. We are officially now in a recession again, that worries me.
KUHN: Tomoaki Iwai is a political scientist at Nihon University in Tokyo. He says Abe has other grand designs besides the economy. He wants for example, to ease restrictions on Japan's military that were imposed after World War II.
TOMOAKI IWAI: (Through Translator) His ambition is to change the constitution, which requires him to extend his leadership. The election is the first step for his strategy to maintain his rule over the long-term. He wants to still be prime minister by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
KUHN: Iwai says that behind the election lies Abe's power-play within the LDP. He says Abe wants his people and his ideas in command. That's the lesson, he says, Abe learned from an earlier stint as prime minister. It was derailed by scandals within his cabinet.
IWAI: (Through translator) The LDP has always been comprised of many factions with competing points of view - Abe hated that. He came in under pressure from within his party and he had to quit in 2007. In a way, he wants to be a dictator and control everything.
KUHN: Iwai predicts Abe will win next month's vote against a demoralized opposition, but he might lose enough seats in parliament, Iwai says, to destabilize his administration. Abe says if his ruling coalition fails to win a majority, he'll resign. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.
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