Voting in general election starts across Japan

The Philippine Star

TOKYO (Xinhua) - Voting for Japan's House of Representatives, or the lower house in its bicameral parliament, started at 7 a.m. local time in more than 48,000 polling stations across the nation, with 1,191 candidates running for 475 seats in the powerful chamber.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the snap election last month due to his decision to delay the scheduled sales tax hike by another 2 percent in next year and commented the poll is a referendum on his two-year rule and his economic policies dubbed " Abenomics."

Abe said his economic policies has brought sign of recovery in some areas, but some opposition parties, citing recent government data suggesting the country's economy has slipped into recession, said the "Abenomics" was a failure that resulted in the widening wealth gap.

Abe, who is also president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) , vowed in a speech in Tokyo's Akihabara, in the last efforts to gain more public support for his party, that "'Abenomics'will increase employment and wages. It's important to bring warm winds of economic recovery."

The LDP pledged in its election manifesto that it eyes to turn Japan's financial deficit, the worst among major industrialized countries, to black by 2020, with a plan to be mapped out in summer and to revitalize regional economy and to improve women's social involvement.

In the political pledge, the LDP said it will try to gain more understandings and support from the Japanese public on Constitution revision and it will follow Abe's "active pacifism" so as to pave legitimate way to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a controversial move may drag Japan into war and is widely opposed in the country.

The LDP and its small partner the Komeito Party is seeking to maintain the bloc's comfortable majority in the lower house. Before the lower house dissolution, the ruling bloc took 326 seats in the 480-seat chamber. While the opposition parties aim at gaining more seats to balance the LDP-Komeito dominant Diet.

"The danger is that the Abe administration does not listen to the people's voices," Banri Kaieda, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the major opposition party here, was quoted as saying in Tokyo. "Are you going to support another four years of Mr. Abe's politics," he asked voters to think before casting their ballots on Sunday.

The DPJ criticized in its political platform that "Abenomics" has worsened Japanese people's living conditions, and its by effect, the fast retreating yen, has weighed real wages down for 15 months in a row, enlarging gaps between the rich and the poor.

To address economic woes, the DPJ pledged to revive "wealthy middle class" and to consider introducing multiple rates for the consumption tax and a system of tax breaks combined with cash allowances for low-income people.

The largest opposition party opposes the collective defense, saying the "runaway cabinet" that passes unpopular and controversial bills despite public opinion should be corrected.

With some cooperation, other small opposition parties also sought to gain more supports of voters dissatisfied with Abe's policies.

Although the latest poll showed about 51.8 percent of respondents opposes "Abenomics," the LDP is still in the lead in the general election with 28.0 percent of support in the proportional representation section, according to the same poll by Kyodo News. The DPJ had 11.8 percent of supports.

Yasuo Hasebe, a professor at the Waseda University, said in a recent editorial that the opposition parties failed to come up with a more united policy mix ahead the election and the depressing scenario would force some voters who disagree with the LDP's policies to abandon their ballots or to vote for the LDP.

Other analysts here also pointed out that the lack of operable economic measures by the opposition camp would fail to transfer public discontent with "Abenomics" to their votes against Abe and his LDP.

They went further that Japan's low voting rate gives a chance to the LDP-Komeito bloc as it has a fixed support power base. Voter turnout hit a postwar record low of 59.3 percent in the 2012 general election which saw Abe taking office for the second time, and the voting rate may further decline in this time, local media reported.

Voting will end at 8 p.m. Sunday but some polling station will close at 7 p.m.. The Internal Affairs Ministry expects counting to finish by the early hours of Monday, but media exit polls are expected to project the result immediately after the end of the voting.

On the 475 seats, 295 are elected from single-seat districts and the rest 180 through proportional representation. Each voter casts two ballots to a single-seat candidate and another to choose a party for proportional representation.

Candidates who run in a single-seat district can also appear in the candidate list of the proportional representation system. Even if they lose in the single-seat session, they could still secure a seat in the proportional representation vote if the candidates' parties win many ballots.   

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