Campaigning began Tuesday for one of the most hotly contested elections Japan has seen in more than a decade, with attention focusing on whether the Liberal Democratic Party, which has enjoyed nearly unbroken rule for the past 5 1/2 decades, will find itself out of power.
The Lower House election, to be held Aug. 30, is one of the biggest tests the LDP has ever faced. If media forecasts are correct, it could cost the party control of the government and usher in Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, as the next prime minister.
The LDP has governed alone or in coalitions for the past 55 years, except for a 10-month interlude in the early 1990s.
The LDP’s “ability to take responsibility and the ability to implement (polices) is the point I would like to stress,” Prime Minister Taro Aso told a crowd in front of JR Hachioji Station in Tokyo.
Aso said the LDP would continue to put priority revitalizing the sluggish economy, adding that recent economic indicators have shown bright signs, and that the stimulus packages he has pushed through have contributed to a recovery.
The DPJ’s Hatoyama delivered his first speech in Osaka.
“The day to make history has finally come,” Hatoyama said in central Osaka. “Please give the DPJ the power to change the government. We will start a new politics without depending on bureaucrats.
“Who has taken dreams away from children, who has taken hopes away from the young, and who has taken a sense of security away from the aged?” he asked, obliquely criticizing the LDP.
Aso and Hatoyama have already been on the campaign trail since Aso dissolved the Lower House on July 21.
A total of 1,374 people filed to run for the 480-seat Lower House, exceeding the 1,131 in the previous general election in 2005. Of the candidates, 1,134 are running in 300 single-seat districts.
By party, the LDP is fielding 326 candidates — 289 for single-seat districts and 37 for the proportional-representation segment of the ballot, while the DPJ is putting up a combined 330 — 271 single-seat hopefuls and 59 for the proportional representation list.
This is the first time the DPJ is fielding more candidates than the LDP.
The general election is the first since September 2005, when the LDP won about 300 seats thanks to the popularity of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
After he stepped down the following year, three from the LDP tried to fill his shoes — Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and Aso — but the party’s popularity continued to fall.
The DPJ, which had 112 seats at the time of the Diet dissolution, will need to take an additional 129 to give it a majority of 241 in the lower chamber.
Akihiro Ota of New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, said in Yokohama he expects voters to focus on whether a party hammers out coherent and consistent policies and whether it is able to follow through on them.