Upper house election campaign effectively starts

Political parties effectively kicked off campaigning Thursday for the upper house election slated for July 21, following the closure of the ordinary Diet session the previous day.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, aiming to rally support for his Liberal Democratic Party in areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, plans to deliver his first stump speech in disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture on July 4, when official campaigning is expected to start, an LDP lawmaker said.

The LDP's junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party, announced additional campaign pledges for the House of Councillors poll, highlighting differences with the LDP by referring to, for example, the phase-out of nuclear power.

The biggest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, meanwhile, sought continued support from labor unions to address the "great peril" faced by the party, which lost power in last December's general election.

Abe told Takeo Kawamura, senior LDP lawmaker in charge of the election campaign, during their meeting that he wants to "mainly visit areas affected by the disaster," according to LDP lawmakers.

Abe, who took office in December, has placed priority on reconstruction in devastated northeastern Japan along with efforts to revive the moribund economy.

He also told Kawamura the election should be fought "in an orthodox manner, rather than pursuing eccentric measures."

The government is set to finalize the election schedule at Friday's Cabinet meeting.

Also Thursday, the New Komeito released an additional part of its campaign platform, saying it aims to swiftly realize a "society that does not depend on nuclear power" and pledging not to build any new atomic power plants.

Most reactors in the country remain offline due to safety concerns in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi complex following the earthquake and tsunami.

The party's pledge came in contrast to the LDP platform that does refer to the elimination of nuclear power. LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi recently suggested that resource-poor Japan keep depending on atomic power, taking advantage of its cost effectiveness.

The LDP platform also says it will seek to restart idled reactors once they are confirmed safe by a regulatory body and the government obtains local approval, and that Japan should provide other countries with advanced technology for safe nuclear power.

"Our appeal is the ability to realize policy steps acceptable for people," Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said at a press conference, while admitting the LDP and Komeito have "aspects of competing with each other" despite their alliance.

DPJ leader Banri Kaieda and other party executives, for their part, met with senior officials of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, asking continued support for the party.

"We are in great peril and have to declare a state of emergency," Kaieda told the meeting.

Hiroyuki Nagumo, general secretary of the confederation known as Rengo, responded it will cooperate with the DPJ in the election, adding, "The sense of crisis in the party still seems insufficient."