Campaigning kicks off in Japan ahead of Dec 14 snap general election

A staff member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) puts up posters of election candidates on a wall at the LDP regional election office in Tokyo on Dec 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A staff member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) puts up posters of election candidates on a wall at the LDP regional election office in Tokyo on Dec 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

Official campaigning kicked off in Japan on Tuesday ahead of a snap general election on Dec 14 where voters will have the chance to pronounce their judgment on the Abenomics growth policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

After registering their candidacies at nomination centres nationwide, politicians including Mr Abe took to the streets to appeal for voter support, kicking off a 12-day election campaign.

"This election is about Abenomics…I promise to make Japan economically strong again, so that Japan will again shine in this region and in the world," Mr Abe said in Soma city, Fukushima prefecture, which was hit by the 2011 quake and typhoon disaster.

A total of 475 seats in the Lower House are up for grabs. Of the total, 295 will be contested in single-seat constituencies and the remaining 180 through proportional representation.

Under Japan's election laws, candidates standing in single-seat wards can also be registered in their parties' proportional representation slates.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Japan's largest party, has fielded 283 candidates and its coalition partner Komeito, nine, for a total of 292 candidates in single-seat constituencies. The two parties also fielded candidates for proportional representation seats.

Mr Abe is suspected of calling the election while the opposition is still in disarray in an attempt to give himself another four years in office.

The election comes at a time when public approval for Mr Abe has slipped to its lowest since he took power in Dec 2012.

The prime minister is also hoping to get a fresh mandate for his "Abenomics" growth policies.

Abenomics has boosted the Japanese stock market, delighting investors, and helped to weaken the yen. Though a weaker yen has helped Japanese exports, it has also raised prices of imports of food and raw materials.

But the Japanese economy has failed to rebound more than eight months after the sales tax was raised from 5 to 8 per cent in April. Personal consumption, which accounts for about 60 per cent of Japan's gross domestic product, remains sluggish.

Although many large corporations have raised salaries, most Japanese workers have not seen their wages go up.

Though the election is not expected to result in a change of government, the LDP may lose some seats. It held 294 seats before the Lower House was dissolved.

A minimum of 238 seats is needed for a simple majority.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the country's largest opposition group, has managed to field only 178 candidates for single-seat wards.

Although several smaller opposition parties are also in the race in 197 constituencies, they have agreed with the DPJ to field only one candidate among them so as not to split the anti-coalition vote.

The exception is the Japanese Communist Party, which insists as usual on fielding candidates in nearly all the single-seat wards.

wengkin@sph.gov.sg