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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Election Campaign Kicks Off

Jun. 22, 2016

Official campaigning began on Wednesday for Japan's Upper House election on July 10. Political leaders have gone out across the country to call for voters' support.

Candidates are debating Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies, new national security laws and the idea of amending the Constitution.

"I thought I must launch my election campaign from Kumamoto," said Abe, who is also president of the Liberal Democratic Party. "I thought I will convey to the entire nation our commitment to rebuilding Kumamoto after the earthquakes. The key issue of this election is economic policy. Opposition party members cannot open their mouths without criticizing. All they say is 'Abenomics has failed.' This fight is about whether to advance or retreat. Are we going to vigorously push forward Abenomics to see Japan grow and each region prosper to create a country where everyone can feel the economy is picking up? Or will we go back to 4 years ago? Are we going to return to that dark and sluggish period? This is the decision you're making in this election."

Democratic Party President Katsuya Okada took aim at the LDP's policies.

"We'll bring the Abe administration's reckless drive to an end, and change the political landscape," Okada said. "If we allow the parties that want to change the constitution to get two thirds of the seats, they're certain to push the changes through, especially to Article 9. They want to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense without any limits. We should not allow the Japan-US alliance to be forged in blood. Many young people are not seeing their salaries increase and they're giving up on marriage, even people in their 30's and 40's. It's a reality in Japan. The government should pursue economic policies to balance development and a fairer distribution of wealth. Abe's government says it will expand the economy and then the wealth will trickle down to the people. But Abenomics is the wrong direction for Japan."

Komeito Chief Representative Natsuo Yamaguchi touted the track record of the ruling coalition.

"We have delivered results steadily over the past 3 years, aiming at reviving the economy and ending deflation. Tax revenue has increased. It's important to distribute the outcome achieved by the coalition government to those people yet to benefit from Abenomics. We cannot hand the administration to the Democratic and Japanese Communist Parties. They're fielding unified candidates with no clear explanation of their responsibilities after the election."

Kazuo Shii, chairperson of the Japanese Communist Party, focused on constitutional issues.

"The 4 parties are brought together in the common cause of abolishing the security laws and restoring constitutionalism," Shii said. "To put it simply, we need to restore a proper government that adheres to the Constitution. This should be the utmost priority and we should put policy differences aside. We're questioning the Abe administration, which goes against public opinion."

Initiatives from Osaka leader Ichiro Matsui pledged to cut government spending.

"Stingy is the key word. We're being stingy at the Osaka prefectural and city governments so as not to waste a single pencil, or a piece of paper," Matsui said. "It's natural in Osaka. If we can do small things like that across the country, there will be no need to increase taxes. On the issue of politics and money, we want to review the political funds control law, which has loopholes."

Tadatomo Yoshida, leader of the Social Democratic Party, also focused on the Constitution.

"This Upper House election is about stopping reckless Abe politics, which don't follow the Constitution and also fail to consider people's lives and their livelihoods," Yoshida said. "Through the pacifist Constitution that our party has made use of and has protected, let's aim for a country that won't go to war."

People's Life Party President Ichiro Ozawa criticized Abenomics.

"If the Prime Minister keeps trying to rev up and pursue Abenomics, it will put the country's future and people's lives at risk. Bearing that thought in mind, opposition parties should unite. Our first objective is to replace the prime minister," Ozawa said.

Kyoko Nakayama, chairperson of the Party for Japanese Kokoro, spoke about the Constitution as well.

"The Constitution itself should express the character of Japanese people," Nakayama said. "It should reflect Japanese traditions and the Japanese spirit. We should build a nation that is seen as trustworthy and amicable by the international community."

New Renaissance Party President Hiroyuki Arai pledged to help everyday people.

"You can't just take Abenomics and rev up its engine to create success. If we want to solve real problems, we have to turn the wheel and steer in the direction of real people and their households," Arai said.

Half of the 242 Upper House seats are at stake every 3 years. They are divided between electoral districts and a proportional representation system.

NHK has learned that 225 people are running for the electoral districts, and 164 people for proportional representation.

The official campaign runs for 18 days. Abe says that his ruling bloc aims to win a majority of seats contested this time, that's 61 of the 121 seats up for grabs.

NHK World's Mayuko Ambe joined anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.

Shibuya: So Mayuko, what's the focus of this vote?

Ambe: Well, there are a few main issues at play...first is the economy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is presenting the vote as a referendum on his decision to delay a consumption tax hike and his economic policies dubbed "Abenomics." He kicked off the campaign pledging to keep on revitalizing the economy.

Members of the ruling parties say Abenomics has made progress. They say there are now more jobs and higher wages which have resulted in an increase in tax revenue.

But opposition parties such as the Democratic Party say Abenomics failed. They say it expanded poverty and economic disparity, and that a policy shift is necessary.

Beppu: How about the Constitution? Opposition parties are criticizing Abe's bid to amend the Constitution?

Ambe: Abe is not presenting this as a key issue of the election. He said he wants to move discussions forward on the matter in the Diet session later this year. Amendment of the constitution requires approval of two-thirds or more in both chambers of the Diet and a majority in a referendum. Abe's ruling bloc already has that in the Lower House. So people will be watching to see how they do in this election. But as we mentioned Abe has only said the ruling parties are aiming to get a majority of the contested seats.

Beppu: What are the opposition parties doing to block that?

Ambe: Well, the opposition has formed a united front. And it's unprecedented. The Democratic Party and three smaller parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, are backing unified candidates in all single-seat constituencies. The one-on-one race in the 32 blocs will be a key factor in determining the election.

Beppu: And we're seeing a new group of voters this time?

Ambe: That's right. This will be the first nationwide election since the voting age was lowered to 18 from 20. It's the first change in voting age since 1945, when it was lowered from 25. It will be interesting to see if the additional voters have any real impact.