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Japan’s voters identify election-defining issues as campaigning starts

Kyodo, Staff Report

Voters, including teens who will cast ballots for the first time, expressed their hopes and concerns as official campaigning for the Oct. 22 Lower House election got under way on Tuesday.

In the city of Fukushima, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his campaign, Tetsuo Yoshida, a 71-year-old farmer, said his top issue was reconstruction from the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

“The prime minister showed his enthusiasm for reconstruction by choosing Fukushima as the first stop of his stumping tour,” he said.

Miwako Ogawa, a 52-year-old housewife in Fukushima, said she doubts claims by the Abe government that the economy has been expanding for nearly five years since the prime minister returned to power in December 2012. “I don’t feel like the economy has gotten better. I want (candidates) to focus on stimulus measures.”

Hiroyuki Nakamura, a 35-year-old business owner in Tokyo, said he would vote for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party to support the party’s economic policy.

“I hear a lot that many industries are suffering from shortage of workers. But since firms are willing to hire people, I think the economy is actually getting better,” Nakamura said.

Nakamura also praised Abe’s decision to divert revenue from the planned 2019 consumption tax hike to education and social security.

On top of using tax revenue to pay off public debt, “some portion of it should be used for educational purposes … such as expanding day care services,” Nakamura said.

It will be important for opposition parties to explain in detail how their campaign promises are actually achievable, he added.

“The public is not that ignorant,” he said, adding that such details are necessary “to stimulate deep discussions.”

For some voters, the recent Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen scandals have damped their support for Abe.

“I’m an LDP supporter, but I think how Abe handles (politics) is very dangerous. That’s why I’m considering voting for some other party this time,” said Iwai, a 79 year-old man in Tokyo who declined to give his first name.

Iwai, from Chiba Prefecture, criticized Abe by saying that the prime minister has failed to fulfill his duty to sufficiently explain the alleged cronyism scandals over a new veterinary department at a university run by his friend and the discount purchase of public land by an elementary school operator with ties to the prime minister’s wife.

In front of Ikebukuro Station, where Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike delivered her initial stump speech as head of the LDP-challenging Kibo no To (Party of Hope), Tomohiro Yagi, a resident of Komae in western Tokyo, expressed hope for the fledgling party’s policy agenda. The 68-year-old Yagi said he hopes Koike can rid politics of vested interests and bring an end to scandals like those that have hit Abe.

But Koike also came under fire as voters expressed concern with her involvement in national politics amid the challenges faced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

A 40-year-old woman living in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward asked, “Is she satisfied with leaving preparations for the Olympics and the Tsukiji fish market relocation unfinished?”

The governor plans to oversee a 2018 transfer of the aging Tsukiji fish market to the nearby Toyosu waterfront area while redeveloping the Tsukiji site as a “food theme park” in five years.

The nation’s 18- and 19-year-olds will participate in a Lower House election for the first time since the voting cutoff age was lowered from 20 last year. The decision was sold as a way for younger people’s opinions to be better reflected in national politics.

Atsumi Fukui, a 19-year-old student at Nagasaki University, said he wasn’t sure who to support since information on the parties’ policies on nuclear weapons is limited. “I can’t choose unless they clearly show (their positions),” he said.

Fukui, who was born and raised in the city devastated by the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing, visited the United Nations headquarters in March to observe negotiations on a landmark U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons that was adopted in July. He said he is ashamed of Japan’s absence from the treaty forced by its need to be protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The Nagasaki-native said he will decide after examining each candidate’s opinion on whether Japan would continue to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella or explore another path.