Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties took to the streets across Japan on Saturday in last-minute efforts to woo voters on the eve of the House of Representatives general election.
At stake is whether the public opts to keep the ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, in control of the 480-seat Lower House, or usher in a new government led by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
It is the first general election for the Lower House, which elects the prime minister, since Koizumi took office in April 2001. Voting will end at 8 p.m. Sunday and results for all 480 seats are expected to be made known by sometime after 3 a.m. Monday.
“We want to make the bud of reforms into a big tree under a stable force,” Koizumi said in a campaign speech to a crowd of about 4,500 people in front of JR Oyama Station in Tochigi Prefecture. The LDP is allied with New Komeito and the New Conservative Party.
“We don’t want any confusion,” Koizumi said, taking the opportunity to criticize the DPJ for what he called a lack of a clear vision on how it would form a ruling alliance — and questioning “whether it plans to team up with the Social Democratic Party or the Japanese Communist Party.”
In Kiyose, western Tokyo, DPJ President Naoto Kan slammed the LDP for leaving policy issues to bureaucrats and creating an economy that is deeply in debt. He urged voters to give his party a chance to lead a new administration.
“The LDP is eager to deal with vested interests but leaves everything to bureaucrats when it comes to policy matters,” Kan said. “Those politics undermined Japan to the extent of burdening the people with a per capita debt of 7 million yen.”
Highlighting pension reform, the abolition of expressway tolls and other policy pledges in the DPJ’s election manifesto, Kan appealed for change and said realizing these aims depends on Sunday’s vote.
Koizumi is aiming to secure a single-party majority in the lower chamber, a target the LDP has failed to achieve in the last three general elections, in 1993, 1996 and 2000.
Before the Oct. 10 dissolution of the lower chamber, the coalition held 285 seats, of which the LDP controlled 244, while the DPJ had 137 seats.
A total of 1,159 candidates are running in 300 single-seat constituencies and for 180 seats in the proportional representation blocs, with some running in both.
Polls last week suggested Koizumi’s camp is headed for a comfortable win in the election, although the DPJ, climbing in popularity thanks to its recent merger with the Liberal Party, is also forecast to increase its Diet strength.
Both the ruling and the opposition camps are keen to win over the urban electorate, most of whom are “floating voters” without any preference for a particular party. According to some estimates, these voters make up nearly half of the entire electorate.
Floating voters have tended to cast their ballots for the opposition, but their turnout has historically been lower than that of the party faithful, such as the farmers, small business owners and building contractors, who traditionally vote for the LDP.
DPJ leaders have indicated that their performance in Sunday’s election will depend heavily on voter turnout.
The voter turnout hit an all-time low of 59.65 percent in the 1996 election, and remained low at 62.49 percent in the last election in 2000. However, recent Kyodo News polls indicate that voters’ interest in Sunday’s race is higher than in the last election.
Even if the LDP and its two partners retain their majority, Koizumi needs a clear victory for the LDP to silence opponents in the party, many of whom are unhappy with his reforms because they threaten the interests of longtime party backers.
Analysts said that if the LDP could secure a majority on its own, Koizumi would be able to push ahead with his reform agenda, including more cuts in public spending and privatization of money-guzzling government corporations.
Among leaders of other parties, New Komeito chief Takenori Kanzaki said many of his party’s candidates in the single-seat constituencies are on the border line and vowed to maximize efforts for them to win.
“We definitely want to attain our target, although we face a thick wall of two major parties,” he told reporters before embarking on the final day of the campaign.
Among other opposition leaders, the JCP’s Kazuo Shii went on a canvassing tour from Yokohama through Chiba Prefecture, while the SDP’s Takako Doi campaigned in her home constituency of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
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