TOKYO Japan should hold an election in July and appeal to voters with promises of more public spending for the recession-hit economy, former prime minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday amid signs of a tough election battle ahead.
Abe, 54, resigned abruptly in 2007 for health reasons just months after his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a bashing in an upper house poll. But he has recently returned to the public spotlight, and is close to incumbent premier Taro Aso.
Parliament's lower house on Wednesday approved an extra budget to fund a massive 15 trillion yen ($157.4 billion) stimulus package to try to rescue the economy, hit by its worst recession in 60 years. Aso also wants to enact a law to give Japan's navy greater scope for overseas anti-piracy missions.
"After the extra budget is enacted and the piracy bill enacted, at that stage, an election could be called at any time, and I think one should be called then," Abe said.
"I think July would be better, after the summit," he added, referring to a July 8-10 Group of Eight gathering in Italy.
"By winning the mandate of the people, we can advance more high-powered economic policies, including additional public spending," he said.
Abe admitted the LDP, in power for most of the past five decades, faced a tough fight in an election that must be held by October but said he thought the party and its junior partner could maintain a majority in the powerful lower house.
"There is a tendency for the people to see the various problems now occurring as the result of the long LDP rule," he said. "To counter that, it is important to persuade people that only the LDP, which has experience and wisdom and has policies, can overcome the current severe economic situation."
Surveys show the opposition Democratic Party has a lead among voters asked for whom they plan to cast their ballots in the next election and support could grow after the party picks a leader to replace scandal-tainted Ichiro Ozawa, who resigned on Monday.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)