Official campaigning began Friday for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election with 253 candidates vying for the 127 seats, in a prelude to next month's upper house election that will be seen as a judgment on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's seven-month-old government.
The main focus of the June 23 contest will be how voters evaluate "Abenomics" -- a catchword for the government's policies aimed at boosting the deflation-mired Japanese economy through bold monetary easing and massive public spending.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which lost its status as the major party in the 2009 election, is hoping to regain its leading position in the assembly, currently dominated by the Democratic Party of Japan, and maintain an overall majority with the New Komeito party.
"We'll emphasize what we've achieved in the past six months in our fight," Abe told reporters at the prime minister's office. "We must win the election so we can bolster the economy, and exert strong diplomatic power by attaining political stability."
In his stump speech, DPJ President Banri Kaieda criticized Abe's administration for its economic policies, saying, "We're seeing wild swings of the yen and Japanese stocks and it's like a roller-coaster ride."
The number of candidates outpaced the 221 in 2009, with the LDP fielding 59, the DPJ 44, New Komeito 23 and the Japanese Communist Party 42. A record 53 are women, according to the election board.
For the smaller Japan Restoration Party, which is putting up 34, the election might see a public backlash over controversial remarks by its co-leader Toru Hashimoto about Japan's wartime military brothels that sparked anger abroad, particularly in South Korea. Your Party, which withdrew cooperation with Hashimoto's party after his remarks, has 20 candidates.
The assembly election is being closely watched as an indication of the national political landscape, with each party trying to inject momentum into their campaigns for the House of Councillors election.
A month after the LDP suffered a devastating defeat in the last assembly election in July 2009, it lost to the then opposition DPJ in a House of Representatives general election, paving the way for the DPJ to take the reins of government for the first time.
The DPJ currently holds 43 seats in the assembly, followed by the LDP with 39 and the New Komeito party with 23. The Japanese Communist Party has eight, followed by three for the Japan Restoration Party.