Mihoko Asaka wants to know how candidates in this month’s election will create jobs and halt the drastic population decline that is bleeding her home region of youth and vitality, but she has little hope they will offer real solutions.

Like many of his age group, her 25-year-old son left largely rural Akita Prefecture to find work after graduating from college.

“I’m interested to see how much they are listening to the voices from this region,” said Asaka, 57, as she waited for a bus in the city of Akita. “But I don’t think our voices are being heard. They talk about money being thrown around, but we can’t see where it goes.”

Critics say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies to end deflation and generate growth have mainly helped big cities, large companies and the rich by boosting share prices and exporters’ profits.

All too aware of the criticism, Abe has made spreading the benefits of his “Abenomics” agenda to “every nook and cranny” of Japan a key plank in the Liberal Democratic Party platform for the Dec. 14 Lower House election.

The LDP-led ruling coalition is expected to keep its majority, so interest is focused on whether and to what extent its grip on two-thirds of the chamber erodes.

Akita, with the dubious distinction of having Japan’s highest suicide rate and fastest-shrinking population, definitely needs a boost.

About 30 percent of its population is aged 65 and over, compared with 25 percent nationwide, and the ratio is predicted to rise to more than 40 percent by 2040, when Akita’s total population will have fallen by more than a third to 700,000.

“Abenomics isn’t helping Akita,” said a 65-year-old former banker who declined to give his name. “It just keeps sinking.”

Some local executives argue Abenomics is working, at least by beginning to alter the deflationary mindset that has kept companies in downsizing mode for two decades.

Akita’s ratio of jobs to applicants hit 0.93 in October, still way below Tokyo’s 1.59 but a 22-year high for the prefecture.

“Before, things were completely dark. Now we can see a little light,” said Hiroki Miura, chairman of the Akita Chamber of Commerce and Industry, adding that sharp cuts in public works spending by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government hit the local economy hard.

Some business leaders had hoped Abe’s plan to legalize casinos could be a boost for the region, but the outlook is murky after the legislation died in the Diet due to the election.

Florist Masanori Sato, head of a local association of shop owners, said he had felt a gradual improvement in business until the consumption rose to 8 percent in April.

“So far, Abenomics has mostly helped the center, but I feel as if it will start to spread after a while,” he said.

Like elsewhere in Japan, however, Akita wage increases have not kept pace with rising prices, and union officials say many of the new jobs are for lower-paid temporary workers.

The LDP is traditionally strong in the region, but Abe’s decision to call a snap poll after just two years in office is making it hard for the LDP to generate enthusiasm. Voter turnout could mark another record low, in Akita as well as nationwide.

“Last time, the wind blowing against the DPJ was very strong,” said Yoichi Suzuki, vice chairman of the LDP’s Akita urban branch, referring to the voter backlash in 2012 against the DPJ’s sometimes chaotic 2009-2012 reign. “This time . . . there is no wind at all.”

As elsewhere, voter disaffection could help the LDP because it can still mobilize core supporters, although local politicians said LDP-friendly farmers are upset over falling rice prices and could turn to a rival conservative candidate in one of the prefecture’s three election districts.

Civil servant Mihoko Iwasawa, 55, does not plan to vote.

“I’ll just keep quiet and hope the LDP wins,” she said, chatting with a former classmate in a coffee shop.

While anti-DPJ anger may have waned a bit, it has far from evaporated. “It’s impossible to suddenly restore our image in this election,” said DPJ candidate Manabu Terata.

Housewife Fumiko, 66, who declined to give her family name, said she voted for the DPJ in 2009 but didn’t cast a ballot three years later.

This time, she has yet to make up her mind. “There are a lot of people who can’t vote for any party with confidence. I’m one of them.”

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