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With the coming election in mind, former House of Representatives member Kaoru Yosano last spring departed the Liberal Democratic Party faction led by Shizuka Kamei.

The Kamei faction is known for pushing public works projects as a way of propping up the economy, especially rural areas that are traditional LDP voter bastions.

Yosano, 65, decided that to make himself more attractive to Tokyo’s unaffiliated voters, he needed to distance himself from Kamei’s faction and its pork-barrel trappings.

Unaffiliated voters in the capital are becoming less supportive of the LDP’s traditional ploy of allocating a large portion of the national budget to public works projects in rural areas.

In the last Lower House election, in 2000, Yosano, a former minister of international trade and industry, was defeated by Banri Kaieda of the Democratic Party of Japan by roughly 2,500 votes in the Tokyo No. 1 district.

Yosano is facing the 54-year-old former TV economic commentator again, but this time he feels he has a better chance of coming out on top.

Yosano believes that because the LDP is run by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who does not toe the Kamei faction line on constructing more expressways, he will be able to capture the hearts of urban voters.

Under Koizumi’s leadership, “the LDP has completely changed,” Yosano claimed. “Now it’s a party trying to reduce road construction across the nation.”

He is telling voters that he will help revive the ailing economy by working to create an environment that nurtures new industries.

Yosano is one of a number of LDP candidates in Tokyo facing a tough battle.

The LDP suffered a stunning setback in Tokyo in the 2000 race, when 14 of its 22 candidates in single-seat districts were defeated. Most shocking to the ruling party was that six of the losing candidates were veteran LDP members who had been Cabinet ministers.

“Tokyo has a large volume of floating votes, which tend to favor the DPJ,” said Ikuo Kabashima, a professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in electoral systems.

Kabashima said the LDP’s vote-gathering power has waned in urban areas. Traditional supporters, including owners of small and midsize businesses, have dried up amid the prolonged economic slump.

LDP candidates in Tokyo are instead trying to ride the coattails of Koizumi and the popular LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe to victory in Sunday’s election.

It is a completely different environment from that of the last Lower House election, when the party was led by the unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, famous for his many gaffes, including the widely criticized remark that “Japan is a divine nation with the Emperor at its center.”

In Tokyo’s No. 5 district, which covers Meguro and part of Setagaya, former education minister Takashi Kosugi, 68, is trying to attract unaffiliated voters and those of the younger generation, whom he believes are the key to his victory.

“My supporters are growing old,” Kosugi said. “I have to target the next generation.”

In a marked shift from his previous campaign strategies, Kosugi has put an end to big rallies, which are both time-consuming and costly and attended only by LDP supporters, and has instead been holding several small daily gatherings. He also updated his Web site and sent out e-mail newsletters.

In the last election, Kosugi was defeated by the DPJ’s Yoshio Tezuka by 4,000 votes. But Tezuka is also targeting floating votes.

Since then, Kosugi has been teaching global environment studies at Teikyo University three times a week. He claimed this has reacquainted him with young people, the demographic he failed to appeal to in the last election.

Meanwhile, Takashi Fukaya, an LDP candidate in Tokyo’s No. 2 constituency, is sticking to the traditional campaign tactic of trying to meet as many people as possible by attending every kind of meeting, festival, funeral and ceremony in his district.

Fukaya, a former trade minister, was defeated last time by the DPJ’s Yoshikatsu Nakayama, a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, by about 7,000 votes.

“When I was invited to a Bon festival in Bunkyo Ward, I danced the ‘Tanko-bushi’ (a popular Bon dance),” Fukaya told more than 100 people who had gathered in Taito Ward last month. “I even took off my jacket and shoes to carry a portable shrine at another festival.”

A local assembly member who asked not to be named said he feels that Fukaya became more approachable after losing.

“When he was a Diet member (his head was in the clouds, so) I could not speak to him,” the assembly member said.

Fukaya is pitching his political influence and experience as a lawmaker, and is claiming credit for the planned Tsukuba Express railway that will link Tokyo’s Akihabara Station and Tsukuba Station in Ibaraki Prefecture. The railway is expected to begin operations in 2005.

Fukaya said the government needs to spend more money on public works projects. But in a twist on the old theme, he is campaigning for such projects to be created in the city instead of rural areas.

But the DPJ, which successfully lured unaffiliated voters in Tokyo last time, is still a formidable opponent.

Kaieda has received from voters several orders for the DPJ’s campaign policy booklet, which features specific goals, including financial details and timetables.

A 44-year-old local assembly member supporting Kaieda said he has never before seen such voter interest in the DPJ’s policies.

The DPJ recently absorbed the Liberal Party, headed by Ichiro Ozawa, who had once wielded strong influence within the ruling LDP.

The DPJ is trying to maximize the positive impact of the merger, especially in those electoral districts where DPJ and Liberal Party candidates competed in the last election.

In Tokyo’s No. 5 constituency, Nobuhiko Endo, who ran as a Liberal Party candidate last time, is now running as an independent. But Liberal Party supporters are expected to vote for the DPJ’s Tezuka, who is officially backed by the expanded party.

Nakayama, Fukaya’s rival, is also trying to make the most of the recent merger by taking advantage of Ozawa’s popularity with conservative voters.

Ozawa, who graduated from a high school in Bunkyo Ward, appears on Nakayama’s campaign posters.

Some observers believe the Nov. 9 election, the third of its kind under the single-seat constituency system, may create a political landscape dominated by the LDP and the DPJ.

People who voted for candidates from smaller parties in the past two elections under the single-seat system may vote for DPJ candidates this time around, they said.

The single-seat system was introduced in 1996 in part to bring about the eventual creation of a two-party system similar to that of the United States.

The University of Tokyo’s Kabashima said many supporters of small parties like the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were disappointed with past election results because the candidates they voted for failed to land Diet seats.

To reflect their views in national politics, such voters might opt to support the DPJ, particularly because it has absorbed the Liberal Party, which was either their second or third favorite party, he said.

Given these favorable factors for the opposition party, whether Tokyo’s LDP candidates can be victorious in the coming poll may depend on the public popularity of Koizumi and Abe, along with organizational support from the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai.

Soka Gakkai is the main support body for New Komeito, which is in the LDP-led ruling coalition along with the New Conservative Party.

Kabashima said the LDP still must rely on votes from Soka Gakkai, which reportedly draws more than 20,000 votes on average per district.

“Considering Koizumi’s popularity, the LDP should win more seats in Tokyo than in the last election,” Kabashima said. “And the LDP is likely to gain more seats if voter turnout is lower,” because it can count more on Soka Gakkai’s organizational support.

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