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Japanese political parties brace for upper house election

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Japan's political parties made last-ditch efforts to seek the support of voters on Saturday, the final day of campaigning before Sunday's upper house election.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chose Tokyo's Akihabara district, where young people flock to buy electronic appliances and anime goods, to finish roughly two weeks of official campaigning.

"It's now or never for Japan," Abe told a crowd of young and old voters holding national flags in front of JR Akihabara station, as he pledged to revitalize the economy with economic policies dubbed "Abenomics."

Abe also sought to woo voters by vowing to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to play a greater security role, at a time of growing tension with China over a territorial dispute, and with North Korea over its nuclear and missile development programs.

"I promise here that I will protect Japan's territories at any cost. To make Japan proud, let us win the election and change the Constitution," the prime minister said.

Sunday's House of Councillors election is the first national vote since Abe took office in December, thus the first test of how voters view his handling of the government the past half year.

With polls showing relatively high voter support for himself and his party, Abe aims to resolve the so-called "twisted Diet" by regaining control of the upper house with the LDP's junior coalition partner New Komeito.

Opposition parties have criticized Abe's economic policy, and expressed concern about the LDP's dominance.

Speaking in front of a crowd in Hiroshima, Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda said people's lives are at stake in the election. "We cannot leave our politics in the hands of Mr. Abe."

Japan Restoration Party co-leader Toru Hashimoto also cautioned against the LDP's dominance, and stressed the importance of a new opposition party to block the ruling party.

"We cannot let only one party grow bigger and bigger," said Hashimoto, who recently came under fire for remarks about Japan's wartime brothels. "We need a new opposition party in place of the DPJ" supported by labor unions of civil servants, he added.

Mizuho Fukushima said in Yokohama that her Social Democratic Party wants to prevent Abe from revising the Constitution, while Kazuo Shii, who heads the Japanese Communist Party, told people in Kawasaki that the party will oppose the government's plan to raise the consumption tax rate from April.

People's Life Party leader Ichiro Ozawa said in Niigata Prefecture that Abe's policies could only benefit large companies and declared, "We must change the politics that ignores people."

This is the first electoral contest in which candidates have been permitted to campaign online, as Japan recently decided to make Internet campaigning legal in a bid to woo voters.

"I use social media like Facebook and Twitter every day, but I don't really think we are more connected to candidates and political parties than before despite use of the Internet being allowed," said 21-year-old vocational school student Koto Takeda from Saitama Prefecture.

A 51-year-old woman from Tokyo who came to JR Akihabara station said it was her 15-year-old son who found out through the Internet that the prime minster would be making a campaign speech there.

"I'm not sure if it (the Internet) will prove useful for voters like me, but it may be a different story for tech-savvy younger generations," she said.

A total of 433 candidates are running for 121 seats in the election, as half of the upper house's 242 seats come up for election every three years.

Of the 121 seats up for grabs, 73 will be filled by the winners from 47 prefectural electoral districts with the remaining 48 chosen under the nationwide party-list proportional representation system.

A poll by Kyodo News has shown the LDP-led ruling coalition is set to obtain a comfortable majority in the upper house, securing at least 129 seats, including the 59 it already holds that will not be contested Sunday.

Such an outcome would allow the ruling camp to take control of all standing committees as well as the upper chamber, facilitating the passage of bills as it already holds an overwhelming majority in the more powerful lower house.

During roughly two weeks of campaigning since July 4, political parties also focused on whether to restart nuclear power plants that have been offline since the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Also at issue are the planned sales tax hikes starting next April, and Abe's decision to join talks on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Polling stations across the country will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

==Kyodo

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/kyodo-news-international/130720/japanese-political-parties-brace-upper-house-election