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Staff writer

The official campaign for the July 12 Upper House election kicks off Thursday, with the focus on whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party can find itself with a majority of seats in the chamber for the first time in nine years and thereby regain full control of the legislature.

Half of the 252 seats in the House of Councilors are contested every three years. This time around, 61 seats of the LDP, which currently holds 119 seats in the chamber, will be contested by 458 candidates. If the LDP can retain all 61 seats and add eight more, it will recover a majority in the house.

The LDP found itself an opposition party for one year starting in June 1993 after 44 of its members bolted from the party. In September it recovered a majority in the more powerful House of Representatives when a number of lawmakers from the now-defunct Shinshinto returned to the fold.

For more than six months, the administration of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and his LDP have been widely and severely criticized for economic policy failures that many analysts contend brought about the current recession, considered the worst in decades.

Support for Hashimoto’s Cabinet fell to 25.8 percent, a new low, and the disapproval rate hit a record high of 48.3 percent in the latest survey, conducted earlier this month by Jiji Press. Despite the gloomy economic climate and the LDP’s declining popularity, few predict the party’s strength will decline in the July election.

Political analysts expect a record low voter turnout — possibly around 40 percent — which would benefit the LDP because it has strong support from voter organizations. “The result of the election is predictable if the voter turnout stands at less than 45 percent — the LDP will expand its strength,” said Takeshi Sasaki, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo.

“If the LDP wins a majority in the poll, there will not be a power shift for at least the next three years,” said Fusao Ushiro, professor of political science at Nagoya University. “Parliamentary democracy would not work properly without a power shift.”

Unaffiliated voters, who now account for more than half of the electorate, have rapidly increased over the past five years, a time of political turmoil that saw a number of new parties emerge and disappear.

Sasaki noted that the public recently distanced itself further from politics after observing the government’s inability to deal with the recession.

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