Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso dissolved the lower house of parliament on Tuesday, forcing early elections to be held on August 30, the Kyodo News agency reported.

The four-year term of the lower house, the House of Representatives, was to expire on September 10, and an election should have been held by October.

The edict on the dissolution was signed by Japanese Emperor Akihito and read before lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon, officially ending the parliament''s term and starting the election campaign.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Aso, has had a majority in the lower house for the past five decades, but the government''s popularity ratings have recently plummeted amid Japan''s worsening economic situation.

The Liberal Democrats have suffered a series of defeats at local elections, including the loss of 20 seats in elections to the Tokyo metropolitan assembly earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and other opposition parties have been steadily gaining voters'' support.

The LDP currently has 303 seats in the 480-seat lower house, and their coalition partner Komeito has 31. The Democratic Party has 112 seats but is expected to make big gains.