Poll attracts record number of candidates
TANYA CLARK in Tokyo
The nation's first election in nearly 31/2 years moved into top gear yesterday with the launch of the campaign for the October 20 general election attracting a record number of candidates.
A total of 1,503 candidates announced they were running for the 500 seats in the new lower house, surpassing the previous record of 1,349 candidates who ran in 1949.
Loudspeaker trucks blaring political slogans hit the nation's roads and lanes as politicians took up positions outside train stations and on street corners attempting to woo passers-by with their latest political promises.
Glad-handing, baby-kissing candidates and electioneering trucks from which white-gloved hands waved and disembodied voices beseeched voters to elect their candidate were common sights.
Despite rain and cold winds yesterday, party leaders stood atop specially built minibuses at Tokyo's main train stations and intersections in a ritual that was repeated across the country.
From 9 am outside Shibuya station, New Frontier Party (NFP) leader Ichiro Ozawa and a roster of other candidates climbed their minibus' stairs to beg voters' understanding. Mr Ozawa promised: 'If we take power and do not carry out our pledges, I myself will take responsibility.' The NFP is Japan's largest opposition party and holds 160 of the 511 seats in Japan's lower house.
Many see the coming election as a battle between the NFP and the largest party, the Liberal Democrats (LDP), headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The LDP has 211 seats and governs in coalition with the former socialists, the SDP, and the New Party Sakigake.
This coalition is unlikely to survive the election and the LDP is trying desperately to regain power in its own right.
Under the new electoral system a comfortable majority would be 270 lower house seats.
To woo voters, Mr Ozawa is pledging massive tax reductions of 18 thousand billion yen (HK$1,246 billion) by halving income and residential taxes and by slashing corporate taxes from 50 to 40 per cent.
Funding these tax cuts by government spending reductions is not part of his plan. The stimulus effect of the cuts would result in an extra 20 thousand billion yen for the Government, Mr Ozawa said.
The NFP, an offshoot party made up mostly of members who left the LDP in 1993-94, is the only other one with even a theoretical chance of gaining a majority of seats.
Both the NFP and the LDP are unlikely to gain a majority, however. Post-election scrambles to form a coalition government could leave Japan without a clear electoral result for days or longer.
The Democrats loom as the most likely coalition partner for either party. It is a new group made up mostly of former members of two smaller ruling coalition partners, the New Party Sakigake and the SDP.
It holds 52 seats in the lower house of parliament.