Official campaigning kicked off Tuesday for the June 25 general election, which will determine the fate of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and his three-party coalition government.
A total of 1,404 people filed candidacies for the 480-seat Lower House by the 5 p.m. deadline — 1,199 for the 300 single-seat constituencies and 205 running solely for the 180 seats in the proportional representation section.
The 12-day official campaign period began in the morning as party leaders took to the streets of Japan.
Mori plugged his Liberal Democratic Party at Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Station, urging voters to let the current coalition — the LDP, New Komeito and New Conservative Party — stay in power to bring about an economic recovery.
| Total number
|Seats heldin last Diet|
|Liberal Democratic Party||337||||271||326||(260)||271|
|Democratic Party of Japan||262||||242||259||(239)||95|
|Japanese Communist Party||332||||300||66||(34)||26|
|New Conservative Party||19||||16||3||(0)||18|
|Social Democratic Party||76||||71||76||(71)||14|
|Female candidates in brackets (Candidates registered for both single-seat and proportional representation districts in parenthesis)|
“This is an election in which we ask people to choose between the coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, or a coalition formed by (the current) opposition,” said Mori, whose public support rate is in tatters after a string of controversial comments that have revived memories of Japan’s militaristic past.
“The late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi made great efforts to achieve an economic recovery, and as a result, the economy finally has recovered from negative growth” for the first time since 1997, said Mori, who assumed the LDP helm and prime ministership when Obuchi was felled by a stroke in early April.
“To achieve a full-fledged economic recovery, however, we need one more push. I would like to continue economic policies following Obuchi’s line so Japan definitely can secure 1 percent economic growth for fiscal 2000.”
Mori argued that the LDP was able to carry out economic policies swiftly because it had established a coalition that brought about a difficult thing in Japanese politics: a stable government.
In front of Tokyo’s JR Kinshicho Station, New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki told supporters the main issue of the election is whether voters choose a “conservative and centrist political power,” led by the coalition, or an “unstable and confused political power” led by the current opposition forces.
“Only stable political power can lead this country in the 21st century,” Kanzaki told supporters who gathered despite the rain.
Kanzaki said New Komeito has succeeded in achieving policies that reflect the viewpoints of ordinary citizens in such areas as the environment, welfare, education and human rights.
At Tokyo’s Shimbashi Station, Chikage Ogi, head of the New Conservative Party, also stressed the need for a stable administration by the three ruling parties to steer the economy to a full recovery.
“Although the economy has begun to show signs of recovery, this is not full-scale yet,” Ogi said.
She vowed to use up the 500 billion yen in total reserves and would carry out fiscal structural reforms only after the economy showed steady growth of 2 percent.
In Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama urged voters to cast their ballots for “a new political framework led by the DPJ.”
Describing election day as what the DPJ, the main opposition party, has long waited for, Hatoyama told an audience of about 2,000 about his party’s clear desire to run the nation under different rules.
“Let’s bid farewell to old politics, in which money has recklessly been spent on public construction works, and bring about new politics of democracy,” he said.
Hatoyama said the ruling coalition, which is submissive to bureaucrats, has only brought about massive government debt and devastation to the country’s landscape through its emphasis on large-scale public works projects.
“We are confident that we can improve the economy and balance the budget at the same time,” said Hatoyama, who denounced the ruling bloc for postponing budgetary reform.
At Tokyo’s JR Shinjuku Station, Japanese Communist Party Presidium Chairman Tetsuzo Fuwa criticized the ruling coalition for “wasting taxpayers’ money” and “piling up state debts through excessive public works.”
The bulk of government spending in other countries is for social security, Fuwa said, but adding that “Japan spends that part on general contractors.”
He said the JCP will halve public works expenditures and spend the surplus on building more nursing houses for the elderly and more swimming pools at schools, for example.
Fuwa said he believes the ruling bloc will raise the consumption tax after the election, while his party will continue to call for a “more friendly tax system” for low income workers.
Near the Hikarigaoka subway station in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa spoke to a crowd of about 200, calling for votes for his party, which, he said, will dare to carry out painful reform measures.
Denouncing the ruling coalition as having no principles or ability to provide a vision of the country for the next century, Ozawa urged voters to select his party, which is small but has clear policies for reforms, he claimed.
Unlike the ruling coalition, Ozawa said his party does not make “sweet pledges,” because it believes in politicians’ responsibility to bring about reforms, which may be accompanied by “pain.”
The country is in urgent need of reforms in such areas as the economy, social security, education and national security, he said, noting the ruling alliance is unable to achieve them.
In Okinawa, Social Democratic Party chief Takako Doi said most Japanese are frustrated because the ruling bloc’s policies have only backed major firms and banks.
“Japan is on the verge (of collapse),” she told a crowd, calling for a change in politics. “I’d dare to say ‘no’ to tax hikes if they are used only to pay off the debts and pay for social security,” she said.
She said a majority of the members on a Lower House panel reviewing the Constitution are contemplating revising the supreme code to enable Japan to go to war. Doi stressed the SDP’s policy of supporting the current Constitution.
The ruling coalition is aiming to secure a comfortable majority — or 254 seats — that will allow it to control all standing committees of the Lower House.
The total number of candidates is expected to be the second largest, following the last general election in October 1996. It includes more than 200 women, topping the previous high of 153 women in the 1996 election.
Nine parties and one political organization filed for the proportional representation seats to be contested in 11 regional blocs. There will be 480 seats available in the powerful lower chamber. The election falls on what would have been Obuchi’s 63rd birthday. Obuchi died May 14.