Japanese head to polls today

DECISION TIME::As Japan geared up for elections, opposing parties focused on the key areas of the economy, education and the relationship with China


Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 5

Hundreds of candidates vying for a seat in Japan’s parliament made their final pitches yesterday in an election expected to see the return of the country’s old guard.

Opinion polls showed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is on course for a convincing victory in today’s lower-house election, with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda likely to be ousted.

LDP leader Shinzo Abe is predicted to be elected as prime minister, a job he held without much distinction between 2006 and 2007, in a move that may herald a hardening of Japan’s foreign policy at a time of heightened tensions with China.

As light rain fell over Tokyo, some of the over 1,500 candidates standing in the election stood before train stations to make final pleas to voters, while their staff held banners with the candidates’ names printed in bold typeface.

Noda urged voters not to return to the LDP, which governed Japan almost continuously for more than five decades before his party came to power three years ago.

“The election is about whether we can move forward or turn back the clock,” he said at a train station near central Tokyo, according to the Sankei Shimbun.

Abe, in Wako City, Saitama Prefecture, north of the capital, pledged to reform Japan’s education system, and in particular tackle the issue of bullying.

“We will do everything we can, including passing laws to prevent bullying,” Abe was cited as saying by the Sankei.

The conservative ideologue has pledged in previous campaign speeches to “repair the Japan-US alliance and firmly defend our territorial soil and waters.”

In one of the last gauges of the public mood before the vote, polls published on Friday showed the LDP and its junior coalition party could achieve a possible two-thirds majority in the lower-house ballot.

That would hand Abe a mandate to try to fulfill his campaign pledge of bolstering Japan’s military and coastal defenses, particularly on the Tokyo-controlled Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known as the Senkakus in Japan — which Taiwan and China also claim.

On Thursday Japan scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese plane entered airspace over the island chain. Tokyo said it was the first time a Chinese state-owned plane had breached its airspace.

North Korea’s rocket launch earlier this week could also boost the right-wing vote in a country that lives uneasily next door to an unpredictable Pyongyang.

Polls indicate that despite a strong current of anti-nuclear feeling since last year’s tsunami sparked reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, an array of smaller parties promising an atomic exit may struggle to gain traction.

On the economic front Abe has been vocal in calls to tackle the deflation that has beset the economy, vowing to impose a three percent inflation target on the Bank of Japan and forcing it to buy bonds — effectively deficit financing.

He has since back-pedaled after criticism that he was endangering the independence of the central bank. However, his comments helped pull down the high yen, delighting exporters hit hard by the surging currency.

Noda’s DPJ struggled in government to live up to the promise of its barnstorming 2009 election win that cracked the LDP’s half-century virtual stranglehold on power.