Only 314 candidates to vie for Upper House

In the year’s biggest political battle, 314 candidates will run for 121 seats in the July 11 election for the House of Councilors.

The figure is the smallest since the proportional representation system was introduced in 1983, with more than 130 fewer names compared with the last Upper House election in 2001. Only two major parties — the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan — are planning to increase their candidates.

As of Wednesday, 186 people are planning to vie for 73 seats in 47 electoral districts. A total of 128 candidates from the five political parties plus four groups will run for the 48 proportional-representation seats.

Main campaign issues figure to be the Self-Defense Forces’ dispatch to Iraq, policy toward North Korea and economic measures, in particular the pension system reform bills railroaded through the Diet by the ruling coalition earlier this month.

Attention is focused on whether the LDP, headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will recover its first single-party majority in 15 years in the Upper House.

For the DPJ, the main opposition force, the election will test whether it can maintain the momentum from last November’s general election for the House of Representatives.

Campaigning will formally start June 24, though it effectively began Wednesday with the end of the 150-day ordinary Diet session.

The 247 seats in the Upper House will be reduced to 242 in the upcoming election as part of election reform.

Among the 121 seats up for grabs, the LDP has to obtain 56 to claim a clear majority. Koizumi has said his party aims to secure at least the 51 seats it had as of early April. The LDP currently holds 50 of the 121 seats in play.

The DPJ aims to show a net increase from its 38 seats up for re-election.

The LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, aims to retain its 10 seats up for re-election.

Uphill battles are expected for the other opposition parties — the Japanese Communist Party, with 15 seats in contention, and the Social Democratic Party, with two.

The LDP plans to showcase Koizumi’s efforts on structural reforms, the improving economy and policy toward North Korea.