TOKYO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was set to dissolve the lower house of parliament Friday for polls next month, in a political gamble widely expected to strip his centre-left party of power.
"I want to seek a mandate from the people," Noda told reporters as he arrived at the prime minister's office ahead of a cabinet meeting.
Noda has been under pressure to call elections for months and offered dissolution of the main decision-making chamber in a parliamentary debate earlier this week.
He managed along the way to secure a number of concessions from his opponents -- key among them an agreement on a deficit-financing bill allowing the government to issue bonds to cover its debts this financial year, without which Japan would have effectively run out of money at the end of this month.
That bill passed the opposition-controlled upper house on Friday morning.
Noda's own ill-disciplined Democratic Party of Japan is anything but united on the need for an election on December 16.
Poor poll numbers, voter disillusionment, increasing tensions with China, the slow pace of recovery from the tsunami of March 2011 and a plodding economy mean many in the DPJ fear for their seats.
Since Wednesday's debate the number of parliamentarians jumping ship has accelerated. Having had almost two-thirds of the 480 lower house seats when they came to power in 2009, the party had lost its majority by Friday morning.
Chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura defended the DPJ's track record, saying ties with the United States had been strengthened over the last three years. He insisted efforts had been made to recover from tsunami.
"In addition, the bill to reform social welfare and the tax system was passed by parliament," he said, referring to Noda's flagship and hard-fought legislation that will double sales tax to help tame Japan's ballooning deficit.
Commentators say no single party will have the numbers to govern alone after the election, with an untidy coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and smaller fringe parties seen as a likely outcome.
The financial markets have begun preparing for that scenario with the yen softening markedly after LDP leader Shinzo Abe called for "unlimited easing" by the Bank of Japan.
Octogenarian former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who established his Party of the Sun this week, reportedly met Friday with iconoclastic Osaka mayor, Toru Hashimoto, the leader of the recently-launched Japan Restoration Party.
The pair are understood to have talked over ways to narrow their policy differences in a bid to forge a "third pole" between the two largest parties.
The lower house was due to meet in the afternoon to discuss left-over parliamentary business, before its dissolution later in the day, which will be formally declared by Emperor Akihito.