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Japan's lower house of parliament dissolved, paving way for snap vote

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially dissolved parliament Thursday, effectively kicking off a national election campaign where he faces an unexpected and formidable challenge from the popular governor of Tokyo.

[TOKYO] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially dissolved parliament Thursday, effectively kicking off a national election campaign where he faces an unexpected and formidable challenge from the popular governor of Tokyo.

After the speaker officially dissolved parliament, members of the lower house raised their arms and shouted "Banzai" three times - the Japanese equivalent of "three cheers" - before breaking into applause.

Voters in the world's third-biggest economy will go to the polls on October 22, as Mr Abe seeks a fresh popular mandate for his hardline stance on North Korea and a new tax plan.

"A difficult battle starts today," Mr Abe told reporters, shaking his fist. "This is an election about how to protect the lives of people," said the premier. "We have to cooperate with the international community as we face the threat from North Korea." Mr Abe asked for public support for his "strong diplomacy" on North Korea, which has threatened to "sink" Japan into the sea and fired missiles over its northern Hokkaido island twice in the space of a month. "We need to fight for our children's future."

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Mr Abe stunned Japan on Monday with a surprise call for a snap election, seeking to capitalise on a weak opposition and a boost in the polls, as voters welcome his hawkish North Korea policy.

But Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has upended Japanese politics in recent days, stealing Mr Abe's limelight with her newly launched "Party of Hope" that seeks to shake up the country's lethargic political landscape.

Ms Koike's new party, formally unveiled Wednesday, has attracted an influx of lawmakers from a wide range of ideological backgrounds and could unify opposition to Mr Abe, presenting Japanese voters with a credible alternative to the premier.

For the moment, although Ms Koike is leading the party, she is not running for a seat in parliament, preferring to concentrate on governing the world's most populous city in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic Games.

AFP