Final appeals before Japanese polls
Published 15/12/2012 | 06:59
Candidates are making final impassioned appeals to voters the day before Japanese parliamentary elections that are likely to hand power back to a conservative party that ruled the country for most of the post-war era.
Polls suggest voters will dump prime minister Yoshihiko Noda's ruling Democratic Party of Japan three years after it swept to power amid sweeping promises of change.
The DPJ's inability to deliver on a string of promises and Mr Noda's push to double sales tax have turned off voters, who appear to be turning back to the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP ruled Japan almost continuously from 1955 until it lost badly to the DPJ in 2009.
If the LDP wins, it would give the hawkish Shinzo Abe, who was prime minister from 2006-07, the top job again, raising questions about how that might affect ties with rival China amid a territorial dispute over a cluster of tiny islands claimed by both countries.
"This isn't for the LDP. We want to restore a Japan where children are proud to have been born here. Please give us your hand," Mr Abe - who would be Japan's seventh prime minister in seven years - said from the top of a van at a campaign stop in Wako, a city north west of Tokyo.
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 Japanese want atomic energy phased out following last year's disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
Surveys this week showed about 40% of people were undecided, reflecting the widespread disenchantment towards both parties, 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 Restoration Party of Japan, led by ex-Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto - both outspoken, colourful politicians - is calling for a more assertive Japan, particularly in its dealings with China.
The anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party, formed just two weeks ago, is led by Yukiko Kada, an environmental expert and the governor of Shiga prefecture. But the party's image has taken a hit after she joined forces with a small DPJ breakaway party led by Ichiro Ozawa, a veteran power broker who has a negative reputation among many voters.
Major Japanese newspapers are projecting that the LDP will win a majority of seats in the 480-seat lower chamber of parliament, meaning it could rule alone or perhaps form a coalition with the closely allied Komeito, a party backed by a large Buddhist lay organisation.