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Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012
Candidates issue final earfuls
Candidates made final impassioned appeals Saturday to voters a day before a general election that is likely to hand power back to the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled the country for virtually all of the postwar era.
Polls suggest voters will dump Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan three years after it swept to power amid sweeping promises of reform.
The DPJ's inability to deliver on a string of promises and Noda's push to double the sales tax have turned off voters, who appear to be switching back to the LDP, which has swung considerably to the right under President Shinzo Abe. The LDP governed Japan almost continuously between 1955 and its ouster by the DPJ in the 2009 Lower House poll.
If the LDP wins Sunday, it would give the hawkish Abe, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, the top job again, raising questions about how that might affect ties with China amid the increasingly acrimonious territorial dispute over the Senkakus, a cluster of tiny islets claimed by both countries but held by Japan.
"We want to restore a Japan where children are proud to have been born here. Please give us your vote," Abe, who would become the country's seventh prime minister in six years, declared atop a van at a campaign stop in Wako, Saitama Prefecture.
The LDP has called for more public works spending to revive the long-stagnant economy and is generally more supportive of nuclear energy, even though most of the public want atomic energy phased out in light of the Fukushima calamity.
Surveys over the past week showed about 40 percent of voters remained undecided, reflecting widespread disenchantment toward both the DPJ and the LDP, as well as confusion over the emergence of several fledgling parties that have popped up in recent months espousing a wide range of views.
The nationalistic, populist Nippon Ishin no Kai (Restoration Party of Japan), led by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto as his wingman — both outspoken, colorful politicians — is calling for a more assertive Japan, particularly in its dealings with China.
The antinuclear Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), formed just two weeks ago and led by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, has seen its image take a battering since she joined forces with Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (People's Life First), a small DPJ breakaway party led by Ichiro Ozawa, a veteran power broker and former DPJ chief who has a negative image among many voters.
Major newspapers are projecting the LDP will win a majority in the 480-seat Lower House, meaning it could rule alone or perhaps form a coalition with close ally New Komeito. Those forecasts were based on telephone polls, educated guesswork from reporters in electoral districts across the country and analyses of past voting patterns.
While such predictions have generally proved accurate in the past, some experts are cautioning that the actual results may be quite different this time, especially as so many voters are undecided.