Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Final appeals made before Japanese polls

UPPER HOUSE ELECTION Government leaders and party officials spent a final day on the campaign trail ahead of a vote that could decide the prime minister's political future


A man stops to listen to speeches by candidates of the main opposition Democratic Party as supporters hold placards calling for the pension system to be revamped during a campaign rally in Tokyo yesterday.


Japan's ruling and opposition party chiefs made their final appeals to voters yesterday, a day before an election that could determine the fate of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Koizumi's ruling coalition cannot be ousted from power as a result of the election for parliament's upper house, as it holds a majority in the powerful lower chamber.

But a poor showing in elections for the upper chamber would weaken his clout and might invite calls for his resignation.

Koizumi, his voice hoarse on the final day of the election campaign, urged scores of voters who were gathered in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district despite pouring rain, to vote for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Yasunori Yamazaki, a 31-year-old computer engineer who stopped to listen to LDP members stump as he was passing by, said he was undecided but leaning toward voting for the ruling party.

"If you look at Japanese politics up to Koizumi, Koizumi is so much better," Yamazaki said.

Such support would be welcome for Koizumi and his party in what could be a tightly contested elec-tion. A survey published by the Asahi Shimbun daily on Friday showed that voters were about evenly split between the LDP and the main opposition Democratic Party.

The LDP appeared to have recovered some ground from previous polls, but the survey was largely in line with those released earlier this week showing that it was in danger of falling short of its goal of winning 51 of the 121 seats being contested.

The upper chamber has a total of 242 seats, with elections for half of them held every three years.

If the LDP performed poorly and won only 44 seats, that would almost certainly force Koizumi to step down, analysts say.

While Koizumi stumped in the urban centers of Osaka and Tokyo, Katsuya Okada, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, spent the day in southwestern Japan, seeking to bolster support in closely-fought rural districts where his party has been weak.

Friday's emotional reunion of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea decades ago with the US ex-soldier she married and had to leave behind in Pyongyang when she came home in 2002 just might tip the scale toward the LDP.

Japanese media gave heavy coverage to the Jakarta reunion of Hitomi Soga with Charles Robert Jenkins and their two daughters, and some voters might credit Koizumi with making it possible.

That would be a welcome relief for Koizumi, whose party has been on the defensive over public dissatisfaction toward pension reforms.

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