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Saturday, June 25, 2005

220 CANDIDATES VIE FOR 127 SEATS

Metropolitan assembly campaigning under way


By ERIKO ARITA and TETSUSHI KAJIMOTO
Staff writers

Campaigning for the July 3 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election officially got under way Friday, with 220 candidates vying for 127 seats.

News photo
Participants applaud during a Friday rally in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo, as campaigning kicked off for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, which will be held July 3.

As the poll in the capital generally reflects the national political situation, parties are ready for an all-out battle to win support from Tokyo's 10.27 million voters.

The Liberal Democratic Party is desperate to achieve strong results, fearing that a poor performance might negatively affect Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's postal reform drive.

The Democratic Party of Japan hopes a good showing in the metro election will help the party launch an offensive against the LDP-led ruling coalition in national politics.

The LDP, which currently holds 51 seats in the assembly and forms the largest force, is fielding 57 candidates.

The DPJ, the largest opposition party in the Diet, is the third-largest group, with 19 seats. The party is fielding 51 candidates.

Although the election lacks high-profile issues and the public generally appears disinterested in metro politics, leaders of the parties made strong appeals to voters at rallies across the metropolis to kick off their campaigns.

LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe stressed what the LDP had done for both the capital and in the central government in his speech to a crowd in front of a candidate's office in Ueno, Taito Ward.

"The Koizumi administration is now trying to complete (its reforms) and discussions on postal privatization bills are in the final stage," Takebe said. "A good result in this election will back up" the bills' passage in the Diet, he said.

Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, LDP's junior coalition partner in the Diet, said his party has helped revitalize the economy since it joined the coalition government six years ago.

"Our party has contributed to stabilizing the government and implementing policies," Kanzaki told a rally in front of Minamisenjyu Station on the JR Joban Line in Arakawa Ward. New Komeito, the second-largest group in the metro assembly, with 21 seats, is fielding 23 candidates in the race.

DPJ leader Katsuya Okada urged voters to back his party in the assembly polls and pave the way for the opposition party to change the regime in national politics in the next Lower House general election.

Okada criticized Koizumi for pushing his postal privatization agenda while failing to address other issues, including pension reform, and said he is worsening relations with China and South Korea.

"If the administration of Tokyo changes, Japan will change. . . . Please give us your support to change the LDP and Koizumi-led politics," Okada told a crowd near JR Shinjuku Station.

Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, the forth-largest party in the assembly, said the election represents the JCP's battle against non-JCP forces as the parties had failed to prevent Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara from cutting the metro welfare budget, wasting public money on shoreline urban development and moving toward the right.

"This election represents a confrontation between the JCP and all the other parties that have supported Gov. Ishihara," Shii told a crowd near JR Ikebukuro Station.

Shii urged Ishihara and Koizumi to stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine, saying their contentious visits have rekindled ire over Japan's wartime aggression in Asia.

Tokyo Seikatsusha Network, a local political party that currently holds six seats in the assembly, is fielding 10 candidates. The Social Democratic Party, which is not represented in the assembly, is fielding one candidate.

In the last election, in 2001, the overwhelming popularity of Koizumi, who became prime minister right before the contest, gave the LDP a key victory.

But the LDP will face an uphill battle in attracting votes in this election, as Koizumi's approval rating has fallen significantly since then, people involved in the election say. If the party suffers a setback, it will call into question Koizumi's ability to lead and could affect the outcome of his postal reform drive, they said.



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