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The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 6 is widely seen as the most important vote of the year, but it is not only a battlefield for the nation’s largest parties.

The poll, held once every four years, is a great opportunity for small parties to make their presence and policies known to residents of the capital. However, many of them are facing an uphill struggle given their small campaign-support organizations and lack of major media coverage.

Seikatsu-Sha Network is a party formed and supported by various consumers’ cooperatives in Tokyo and perhaps the most active, successful smaller party in the capital. The network is fielding eight candidates, its largest number yet, in constituencies such as Setagaya, Suginami, Minami-Tama and Fuchu. All the candidates are women.

The party has captured the support of female voters and traditionally been based in residential areas of western Tokyo. This year, however, it is fielding a candidate in Edogawa Ward, on the eastern side of Tokyo bordering Chiba Prefecture.

Mieko Shiota, secretary general of the network, pointed out that national issues have often been the focus of Tokyo elections, but her party emphasizes local issues, particularly welfare. “I think voters’ responses (to policies) have been good,” she said, but added that the expected low turnout and increasing voter apathy could hurt her party’s chances.

Another small party is the New Socialist Party, which is fielding two candidates. It was formed by former Social Democratic Party members who protested the SDP’s about-face on key policy issues, particularly its long-standing pacifist stance in security matters, in 1994. NSP members uphold traditional policies of the party from when it was still known as the Japan Socialist Party.

“Now all political parties are like they are ruling parties (due to similarities in policies). A party should stick to its creeds,” said Yasukuni Ishiko, central committee member of the NSP. The Taiyo Party, which has three candidates for the Tokyo assembly, is approaching the poll from a different angle.

Tetsundo Iwakuni, head of the party’s campaign headquarters, said he is putting his energy into supporting candidates from other “friendly parties” such as Shinshinto and the Democratic Party of Japan. “Now, I’m using 70 percent (of my time) to campaign for candidates from friendly parties,” Iwakuni said.

While the Taiyo Party is fielding its own three official candidates in Shinagawa, Setagaya and Ota wards, it is also recommending 16 candidates from other parties, a backing known as “suisen.”

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