Tokyo - Heavy snow hit large swathes of Japan yesterday, the eve of a general election, fuelling speculation that the ruling coalition is on course for an easy victory on low voter turnout.
It was already snowing heavily in large areas of the country along the coast of the Sea of Japan, also called the East Sea, yesterday, although Tokyo remained clear and sunny.
The weather agency warned that there could be as much as 80cm of snowfall in the central and northern regions by this morning, when polls open.
The poor conditions could put off already unenthusiastic voters and push turnout to a record low for the polls, which were called two years ahead of schedule. In a recent survey, just two-thirds of voters expressed any interest in the vote, down from 80 per cent ahead of the December 2012 elections when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power.
Early opinion polls have shown Mr Abe's coalition is likely to secure more than 300 of the 475 contested seats, giving it the super-majority needed in the powerful Lower House to force through legislation.
In western Japan's Sanyo-Onoda city, squads of female campaign workers - who would ordinarily appear before an election to hand out fliers and wave at motorists - were nowhere to be seen.
Missing, too, were the fleets of campaign cars blaring candidates' names via loudspeakers.
In fact, the candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) - 72-year-old incumbent Takeo Kawamura, a former education minister - is so strongly favoured to win that he has rarely bothered visiting the district to woo voters.
The predicted victory of the LDP coalition is largely attributed to an unprepared and underwhelming opposition, political pundits have said.
"Abe's expected victory is the result of the self- destruction of the opposition," politics professor Shinichi Nishikawa of Meiji University in Tokyo said.
"For many voters, there is no alternative but the LDP," Prof Nishikawa said.
In the third district of Yamaguchi prefecture which includes Sanyo-Onoda city, a six-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo, only two opposition parties were able to field candidates: the Democrats and the tiny Communist Party. Neither appears to pose much of a challenge to Mr Kawamura.
A new mandate from the electorate would give Mr Abe a straight four-year run at some of the more difficult reforms.
AFP, New York Times