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Tokyo governor's new party, opposition Democrats in merger talks: Nikkei

Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese party being launched by popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is in merger talks with the main opposition Democratic Party, the Nikkei business daily reported on Wednesday, adding uncertainty to the outlook for a general election next month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday he would call the snap election to reset his mandate, betting that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and junior coalition party can keep their majority in parliament's lower house, where they hold a two-thirds "super majority".

Abe will dissolve the lower house on Thursday for a vote expected on Oct. 22.

The Nikkei said Koike met Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara on Tuesday to discuss the possible merger, which could also include another small opposition party.

However, the newspaper said the prospects for a merger were uncertain, since Koike has suggested she was not keen and the move could trigger a split in the Democratic Party. The party has been struggling with single-digit support rates and several members have defected to run for Koike's new party.

The Democrats have also been in talks with the Japanese Communist Party about cooperating to run unified candidates but conservatives, including Maehara, are wary of that strategy.

Koike, 65, who launched her fledgling Party of Hope just this week, defied the LDP to run successfully for the Tokyo governorship a year ago and fielded candidates who routed the LDP in an election for the metropolitan assembly in July.

A former LDP member and defense minister, Koike has said she aimed to push reformist policies, open government and an end to reliance on nuclear power. She has also called for a freeze on a plan to raise the national sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in 2019. Abe said he would go ahead with the tax hike and spend some of the revenue on education and child care.

The Party of Hope was set to hold a news conference at 9.30 a.m. (0030 GMT), at which Koike was expected to appear, to announce its campaign platform.

Abe's decision to go to the polls is seen as an effort to take advantage of confusion in the opposition camp and an uptick in his support rates, which have rebounded to around 50 percent amid jitters over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

His support had fallen below 30 percent in July due to suspected cronyism scandals.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Dan Grebler and Paul Tait)