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Official campaigning began Friday for the July 12 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, widely seen as a bellwether for the general election that must be held by October.

The focus is on whether the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc will retain its majority or if the Democratic Party of Japan becomes the leading party, boosting expectations that it will win the national election and achieve a change of government.

As of the 5 p.m. deadline Friday, 221 people had filed to be candidates, including a record 52 women, to vie for the 127 assembly seats. The LDP and DPJ each officially endorsed 58 candidates, New Komeito 23, the Japanese Communist Party 40, Tokyo Seikatsusha Network five and the Social Democratic Party two.

Currently, 48 assembly members belong to the LDP, 34 to the DPJ, 22 to New Komeito, 13 to the JCP, four to Tokyo Seikatsusha Network, and four are independents. Two seats are vacant.

The metro government’s plan to relocate the Tsukiji market in 2014 to a nearby site with contaminated soil has been a key bone of contention and is expected to be a factor voters consider in the metro assembly poll. All the opposition parties, including the DPJ, are against the move.

The metro government’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games as well as its sloppy management of Shinginko Tokyo, a struggling bank owned primarily by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, are likely to be other major issues in the campaign.

Kick-starting the nine-day campaign, Prime Minister Taro Aso, the LDP president, told residents of the Tokyo suburb of Ome that while the DPJ aims to change the government, “the point is what they will do after winning power.”

“We need to avoid a situation in which a change of government will lead to economic stagnation,” Aso said.

DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama galvanized voters in the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward, appealing to them to “get control of Tokyo and Japan back into the hands of people through the DPJ.”

Hatoyama noted more than 100 people kill themselves in Japan each day amid the sharp economic downturn and blasted the government for “doing nothing” to save human lives.

“They are just enthusiastic about white elephant facility construction projects,” he said. “With your courage, let’s realize a government that will not waste even a single life.

“Today, we see the dawn of a government that will prioritize people over concrete,” the opposition leader said.

New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota was critical of Hatoyama while stumping before hundreds of supporters in front of a train station in Arakawa Ward.

While referring to the DPJ leader’s recent scandal over falsified political fund reports, Ota said, “People probably expect nothing from the opposition group led by the DPJ, which doesn’t work, hasn’t made achievements and is not trustworthy.”

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