Japan's prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, made clear yesterday he was in no rush to go to the polls, speaking of the risk of a "political vacuum" in a speech likely to anger an opposition that has urged him to keep a promise to call an election soon.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) swept to power in 2009 and holds a slim majority in the powerful lower house of parliament, but the opposition's domination of the upper house has allowed it to block crucial budget-deficit funding legislation.
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is using the issue to press Noda into calling an early election, at a time when opinion polls show Noda is likely to lose any vote.
But the prime minister showed no sign of being cowed when he delivered a policy speech at the opening of an extra parliamentary session called primarily to pass a bill needed to fund a 38.3 trillion yen (HK$3.73 trillion) deficit.
"In order to fulfil my responsibility for tomorrow, I cannot abandon jobs halfway to their completion," Noda told the lower house.
"We shouldn't create at will a political vacuum that would cause policies to stall."
Noda had promised in August to call an election "soon" in order to secure opposition votes for another key piece of legislation - his signature sales tax increase plan designed to shore up state finances saddled by swelling social security costs.
In the speech, largely summarising government policy, Noda vowed to tackle deflation and the yen's excessive strength, which is hurting the export-reliant country.
He also reiterated his resolve to protect Japanese territory and waters, an apparent reference to recent rows with China and South Korea over separate groups of disputed islets.
"Achieving relationships of trust with surrounding countries such as China, South Korea and Russia, with a comprehensive view, strengthens the foundations on which Japan and the whole region enjoy peace and prosperity," Noda said.
"It is one of the grave responsibilities a country has to fulfil."