Candidates made final appeals to Japanese voters on Saturday, a day before parliamentary elections that are likely to hand power back to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP ruled Japan almost continuously since 1955 until it lost badly to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2009.
The DPJ’s inability to deliver on a string of promises and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s push to double the sales tax have turned off voters, who appear to be turning back to the LDP. An LDP victory would give the nationalistic Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister from 2006 to 2007, the top job again and signal a shift to the right for Japan. The party calls for a more assertive foreign policy and revisions in Japan’s pacifist constitution that would strengthen its military posture.
His hawkish views raise questions about how that might affect ties with rival China amid a territorial dispute over a cluster of tiny islands claimed by both countries.
With Japan’s economy stuck in a two-decade slump, the Liberal Democrats also call for more public works spending and are generally more supportive of nuclear energy though most Japanese want it phased out following last year’s disaster at Fukushima Daiichi.
Mr. Noda, meanwhile, has sought to cast the election as a choice between moving forward or going back to the old politics of the LDP.
Surveys this past week showed about 40 per cent of people were undecided, reflecting a lack of voter enthusiasm for any party, as well as confusion over the emergence of several fledgling parties.
The right-leaning, populist Restoration Party of Japan, led by ex-Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, 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. 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.