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Monday, July 30, 2007

UPPER HOUSE SHOWDOWN

Kansai weighs pensions, wealth gap


Staff writer

OSAKA — Voters in the Kansai region went to the polls Sunday with not only the pension scandal on their minds but also the growing disparity between rich and poor.

Twenty-seven candidates were vying for 10 seats in the six main prefectures that comprise the region — Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama.

In Osaka, Shiga, Hyogo and Wakayama, local media polls over the past few weeks showed candidates backed by the ruling bloc enjoyed a comfortable lead.

In Nara, three candidates were fighting for one seat. Tetsuji Nakamura, backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, was in a closer-than-expected race with Masatake Matsui, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party.

Nakamura, who lost the 2005 Lower House election to Sanae Takaichi, has been rocked by recent tabloid allegations of domestic violence.

"Nakamura is quite popular among younger, more progressive people in Nara," said Manabu Ohta, 38, a Nara-based businessman. "But I think a lot of people were surprised to hear about these allegations and wonder if there's any truth to them. I'll probably vote for Matsui."

In Osaka, much of the recent campaign rhetoric from the nine candidates from both the ruling and opposition parties was on the importance of confronting the widening gap between people who have benefited from the economic reforms of the past few years and those who feel left behind.

Several weeks ago, the Osaka Chamber of Commerce, concerned that voters would dump the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc in favor of opposition candidates, announced it was strongly backing the economic policies of the ruling coalition. Privately, senior business leaders told reporters a major victory by the DPJ would result in further economic hardship for Osaka.

"Traditionally, New Komeito has been very strong in Osaka. I'm voting for (New Komeito candidate and current Diet member) Kazuyoshi Shirahama," said Yuriko Maruoka, 45, a schoolteacher from Osaka. "The LDP will continue to remain in power and Komeito can help make sure they pursue policies that provide a safety net for those who are still struggling economically."

In Kyoto, four candidates were battling for two seats.



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