Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, at the June 26 Cabinet meeting that formally approved the date for this summer's Upper House election (Takeshi Iwashita)

Speculation raged June 26 over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's next political move after his Cabinet formally decided the Upper House election will be held July 21.

With the ordinary Diet session set to close later in the day, fears evaporated that Abe would dissolve the Lower House for a snap election along with the Upper House vote.

Campaigning will kick off on July 4 to determine which candidates will run for the 124 seats that will be contested.

Officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said their target is to win a combined 63 seats along with junior coalition partner Komeito.

In an effort to thwart that plan, the opposition parties agreed to back the same candidate in all 32 single-seat prefectural districts that will be contested.

The last thing the prime minister wants is to be labeled a lame duck, so he is unlikely to discourage talk about dissolving the Lower House before his current term as LDP president, and therefore prime minister, ends in September 2021.

"Since he will likely only be able to dissolve the Lower House one more time, the prime minister will think long and hard about when would be the right opportunity," said an LDP executive.

Others within the party suggested that once a series of ceremonies and events related to the accession of Emperor Naruhito wind up in autumn, Abe may make his move.

Some are even talking about another revision to party regulations to allow Abe an unprecedented fourth term as party president.

The rules were changed in March 2017 to allow Abe to seek a third three-year term, which he pulled off in September 2018.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, for one, has been urging Abe to remain in office beyond his current term on grounds he is the only politician capable of taking on U.S. President Donald Trump as an equal should he win re-election next year.

Some within the government are openly talking about emulating what happened in Russia more than a decade ago.

When Vladimir Putin's term as Russian president ended in 2008, he stepped down to the prime minister's office and allowed Dmitry Medvedev, who had been prime minister, to run successfully for president. When Medvedev's term as president ended in 2012, the two switched offices once again.

Government officials are speculating that someone close to Abe, such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga or Fumio Kishida, the LDP policy chief, could become Abe's Medvedev as it were and replace him as prime minister for one term so Abe could once again resume the post.

While such talk may help Abe maintain political influence, the immediate task facing him and the LDP is to avoid what happened 12 years ago when Abe was in his first stint as prime minister.

The LDP suffered a disastrous loss due in large part to a huge controversy that arose over millions of pension records being lost. This year, the opposition parties are trying to make political mileage out of a recent report by a panel under the Financial Services Agency that said retirees would need 20 million yen ($186,000) in savings in addition to public pensions to survive.

Aso, who oversees the FSA, refused to endorse the report as the administration rushed to distance itself from the controversial document.