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Japan dissolves Parliament, leaving government divided

Elections are set for Dec. 16. If Prime Minister Noda's center-left party loses, the economically sputtering country will get its seventh prime minister in more than six years.

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of parliament Friday, paving the way for elections in which his ruling party will likely give way to a weak coalition government divided over how to solve the nation's myriad problems.

Elections are set for Dec. 16. If Noda's center-left party loses, the economically sputtering country will get its seventh prime minister in six and a half years.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which led Japan for most of the post-World War II era, is in the best position to take over. The timing of the election likely pre-empts moves by more conservative challengers, including former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, to build electoral support.

Campaigning is set to begin Dec. 4, but leaders were already switching into campaign mode.

"What's at stake in the upcoming elections is whether Japan's future is going to move forward or backward," Noda declared to fellow leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan. "It is going to be a crucial election to determine the fate of Japan."

The DPJ, in power for three years, has grown unpopular largely because of its handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and its recent doubling of the sales tax.

Noda's most likely successor is LDP head and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He resigned as Japan's leader in 2007 after a year in office, citing health problems he says are no longer an issue.

"I will do my utmost to end the political chaos and stalled economy," Abe told reporters. "I will take the lead to make that happen."

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