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[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected on Monday to announce a snap election for next month to take advantage of improved ratings and opposition disarray, despite criticism that he is creating a political vacuum amid worries over North Korea.
Mr Abe is expected to hold a news conference after meeting party executives and will likely put pledges to spend on education and child care, stay tough on North Korea and revise the constitution at the forefront of his campaign.
Mr Abe, whose ratings have risen to around 50 per cent from around 30 per cent in July, is betting his ruling bloc can keep its lower house majority even if they lose the two-thirds "super majority" needed to achieve his long-held goal of revising the post-war pacifist Constitution to clarify the military's role.
A weekend survey by the Nikkei business daily survey showed 44 per cent of voters planned to vote for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) versus 8 per cent for the main opposition Democratic Party. That was higher than the 27.7 per cent a Kyodo news agency survey showed voting for Mr Abe's party, with 42.2 per cent undecided.
Mr Abe's image as a strong leader has bolstered his ratings amid rising regional tensions over North Korea's nuclear arms and missile programmes and overshadowed opposition criticism of the premier for suspected cronyism scandals that had eroded his support.
Opposition party officials have said calling an election would be an attempt by Mr Abe to dodge questioning over the cronyism scandals in a session of parliament set to begin on Thursday.
Mr Abe is expected to dissolve the chamber that same day.
The main opposition Democratic Party is struggling with single-digit ratings while a new conservative party expected to be launched this week by allies of popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is racing to get ready for the vote.