Abe eager to end divided Diet at upcoming election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his resolve Friday to put an end to the divided Diet by winning the election for the opposition-controlled upper house next month.

"I will end the twisted relations between the two chambers of parliament at any cost," he said during a debate with leaders of other parties on a live streaming website ahead of the July 21 election, official campaigning for which will start next Thursday.

The House of Councillors election will be the first national contest since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in last December's general election, in which it ousted the Democratic Party of Japan.

DPJ leader Banri Kaieda said during the online debate that the party will aim to "enrich middle-class people" as part of efforts to realize sustainable economic growth.

Candidates and parties are employing e-mail and social networking sites to secure votes for the first time, after the Diet enacted legislation in April to lift the ban on online campaigning.

The ban has been lifted in an attempt to counter political apathy, especially among young people, which has led to low voter turnout.

But concerns remain over whether the rules and penalties, including fines and suspension of civil rights, under the new law will be sufficient to prevent abuse of online tools.

Parties effectively launched their campaigns following the end of the ordinary Diet session on Wednesday.

Abe and his LDP-led ruling coalition say they will contest the election by underscoring their achievements, including a set of economic measures, dubbed "Abenomics," intended to replace nearly two decades of deflation with mild inflation in two years' time.

"I will restore a self-respecting Japan," Abe said in the debate.

But Kaieda criticized Abenomics, saying it has only "succeeded in fueling public expectations" for an economic recovery and people are yet to feel the effects in the form of wage increases.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the New Komeito party, the LDP's junior coalition partner, said, "We must implement the growth strategy that will tap the abilities of young people and must create an environment in which wages and employment increase."

In the 242-seat upper house, half the seats come up for election every three years. The governing coalition needs to win 63 of the seats up for grabs to secure a majority together with the 59 seats it holds that are not at stake this time.

The opposition camp is widely seen as facing an uphill battle as it seeks to erode the relatively high public support for Abe's government.

Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe underscored that deregulation of the utility, agriculture and health care sectors is necessary for "Japan's real growth."

People's Life Party leader Ichiro Ozawa said he wants to freeze the plan to raise Japan's consumption tax rate from next April and criticized Abe's decision to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, warning it could weaken Japan's global competitiveness.

Kazuo Shii, who heads the Japanese Communist Party, said Japan should pursue the elimination of nuclear power, while Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima promised support for women and young people. Kuniko Tanioka, who represents the Green Wind party, said it wants to address income disparities in Japanese society.

Japan Restoration Party co-leader Toru Hashimoto, whose recent controversial remarks about Japan's wartime military brothels sparked fierce criticism, did not join the debate, citing his busy schedule as Osaka mayor.