TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the lower house of parliament Thursday, paving the way for a snap election that is expected to be held October 22.
The speaker of the house, Tadamori Oshima, read the statement of dissolution. Lower house members all stood up and chanted "banzai" three times in a dissolution ritual, then rushed out of the assembly hall.
Abe is widely seen as trying to reconsolidate his grip on power within the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, so he can extend the term of his premiership next year. The dissolution of the more powerful of Japan's two-chamber parliament comes more than a year before required by law.
The ruling party, though, faces a growing challenge from a new party launched by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike this week. The Party of Hope has energized some voters, and is gaining renegade lawmakers from the main opposition party.
Minutes after the dissolution, Abe made a fiery speech to party members. He said he is seeking a public mandate on his tougher diplomatic and defense policies to deal with escalating threats from North Korea and that his party members would have to relay his message to gain support from voters during the campaign.
"This election is about how we protect Japan, the people's lives and peaceful daily life," Abe said. "The election is about the future of our children."
The election for the 475-seat lower house is expected on October 22. The other chamber, the upper house, does not dissolve but is closed until parliament is reconvened after the election. (AP)