Japan's prime minister sees no early election

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LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda does not expect to call an election before a summit of leading industrialised countries in Japan next July, a newspaper quoted him today as saying.

''I would give a fairly high level of guarantee, yes,'' Fukuda told the Financial Times when asked if he could guarantee that he would not call an election until after Japan hosts the Group of Eight summit on the island of Hokkaido.

''Because I hold the authority to call an election. In other words, in the absence of dissolution of the lower house, we shall host the G8 summit,'' he said, according to a transcript on the FT's Web site.

Asked if he favoured a later election over an earlier one, Fukuda said: ''It all depends on the behaviour and thinking of (the) opposition.'' No election for Japan's powerful lower house need be held until late 2009, but pundits have been predicting an early poll.

A Japanese parliamentary committee on Monday approved a bill to restart a naval mission supporting US-led operations in Afghanistan, but it faced rejection by the opposition-dominated upper house, which could trigger a snap general election.

The lower house committee vote came ahead of a visit this week by Fukuda to Washington, which wants Tokyo to resume refuelling of US and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean for drug runners and suspected terrorists.

The opposition Democratic Party's position has been weakened after its leader suddenly announced his resignation last week, only to retract it days later, after a failed attempt at forming a grand coalition with Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Analysts said the public embarrassment has hurt the Democrats' chances at the next general election and that the LDP may call a snap election to take advantage of it.

Fukuda said the situation where the ruling party held a majority in the lower house whereas the opposition dominated the upper house was an ''unprecedented experience'' for Japan.

''We are still figuring out how to proceed. I believe there could (be) cooperation with the opposition policy by policy.

Ultimately there might be a coalition of the sort you see in Germany,'' he said.

''We have already failed once at an attempt at coalition so for some time to come the only choice is to work out policy by policy cooperation,'' he added.

REUTERS SBA RAI0658

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