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Staff writer

A record-low voter turnout of around 40 percent or less is expected for the July 12 Upper House election, reflecting mounting apathy toward politics amid the protracted economic slowdown, according to a leading political analyst.

“It seems the public has distanced itself from politics, particularly after observing that the government’s power to deal with the recession has diminished,” said Takeshi Sasaki, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo.

For the past several months, voters have seen that emergency measures taken by the government to revive the ailing economy have produced no visible results so far, he said. “Business conditions appear to have developed beyond the reach of the government. The people seem to have the sense that no politician, either in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party or the opposition camp, can change the situation,” Sasaki said.

In addition, the “Big Bang” financial deregulation currently promoted by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has accelerated such apathy, added Sasaki, who is also dean of the school’s law faculty.

“The Big Bang has considerably increased the number of people who have moved their assets from domestic financial institutions to foreign ones,” Sasaki said. “Together with the money, they seem to be running away from Japan psychologically.”

Financial experts say the world’s banks and securities houses are looking to tap into Japan’s 1.2 quadrillion yen in personal savings and deposits as restrictions are eased. In addition, some depositors seem willing to withdraw their money from Japanese financial firms now that the yen is depreciating and record-low interest rates continue at domestic banks, Sasaki said.

“Those who would usually be angry voters are unlikely to go to the polls in the July election. Instead, they may be thinking about how to survive the multicurrency system. That will further shrink the voter market,” he said.

Low voter turnout is highly likely to continue unless some shocking event takes place, such as the collapse of a huge firm or a further sharp fall of the yen, which may prompt an angry public to vote against the LDP, he said.

In the Upper House system, half of the 252 seats are contested every three years. If voter turnout stands at around 40 percent, after the record-low 44.5 percent seen in July 1995 in the last Upper House poll, the legitimacy of the election as well as the representational power of the Diet will be called into question. “What is the significance of the House of Councilors then?” Sasaki asked.

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