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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s popularity is expected to change the nature of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election slated for next month.

The election will be the first large-scale vote since the inauguration of the Koizumi government last month. The parties, who see it as a prelude to the House of Councilors election in July, are preparing for it as rigorously as they would for a national election. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which prior to the inauguration of the Koizumi government had expected its seats in the 127-seat metro assembly to decrease, has gained confidence and now says voters are listening to the party’s messages.

The Democratic Party of Japan, among others, is even showing partial support for the Koizumi government, saying “Mr. Koizumi understands our policies well.”

As of Wednesday, 242 candidates from 42 constituencies had expressed their intentions to run. That number is expected to rise to around 250.

By party, 53 will run for the LDP, which currently holds 48 seats, 44 for the Japanese Communist Party, which has 26 seats, 23 for New Komeito, which has 23 seats, and 33 for the DPJ, which has 13.

Six people will run for Seikatsusha Network, which has three seats, six for the Social Democratic Party, which has one seat, and 12 for the Liberal Party, which has no seats.

There will be 62 people running as independents. There are currently five independents in the assembly.

The LDP, which hopes to use Koizumi’s popularity as a springboard for success, has printed posters depicting nearly all of their candidates with the prime minister.

A senior official of the LDP’s Tokyo branch said, “Our supporters are also saying that we can fight well with Koizumi.”

The LDP also hopes that Koizumi’s popularity will help them influence unaffiliated voters. They plan to convey party policies to those voters and call for their support.

A senior official of the LDP’s Tokyo branch said: “The question is how much we can build on the 45 seats. We might reach 50.”

New Komeito, which was part of the ruling coalition in the assembly even before joining the national-level coalition, aims to have all 23 assembly members currently holding seats in the assembly re-elected.

The party is concerned, however, that Koizumi’s popularity may make this difficult.

The party likely to be most affected will be the DPJ, according to political party sources.

An official of the JCP’s Tokyo committee said, “Koizumi’s reforms are said to be what the DPJ has been calling for, but the line of conflict is not clear.”

A senior DPJ official, however, said, “Koizumi’s popularity and the LDP’s popularity are clearly different.”

As the results of Tokyo elections have, in the past, reflected results of the next national elections, both the ruling and opposition parties are intensifying their fight in the leadup to the election.

The parties believe that if the LDP commands an overwhelming success in the Tokyo poll, it may prompt Koizumi to announce a snap Lower House election to coincide with the forthcoming Upper House poll.

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