Japan ruling party set for strong showing in local polls: media

TOKYO (AFP) - Candidates supported by Japan's ruling party were expected to defeat opposition rivals in at least two of the five mayoral elections Sunday, media reported, boosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic reform drive.

Candidates backed by the Liberal Democratic Party were set to win in Oita and Kyotanabe in Kyoto prefecture, according to Kyodo News which cited its own projections and early returns.

Voters Sunday elected mayors and assembly members across the nation, including in the capital, in the second round of local polls this month.

Abe's LDP sees the polls as a litmus test of the popularity of his drive to resuscitate Japan's economic fortunes, dubbed "Abenomics".

The ruling party secured strong support in the first round of local elections on April 12, winning a majority in assembly elections and all 10 gubernatorial races.

Abe told parliament in early April that local economies were gradually benefiting from his campaign to revive the nation's fortunes, but admitted that some small to medium-sized businesses in the countryside had yet to benefit.

Since returning to power over two years ago, Abe has pushed through a series of big-spending stimulus programmes to boost the economy, assisted by aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan.

Big businesses and urban areas, like Tokyo, are seen to have benefited but rural economies have remained slow in the face of depopulation.

While share prices are trading around a 15-year high, the world's number three economy is experiencing low growth, fuelling doubts over Abe's attempt to lift Japan out of two decades of stagnation.

Earlier this month the prime minister ordered his ministers to draw up plans for fresh subsidies designed to resuscitate stagnant local economies, saying: "It is necessary to speed up the plans in order to stop depopulation there."

Local media said his government was likely to include the planned subsidies in a package expected to be announced in June to try to stimulate rural businesses.

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