Japanese Election Campaign Begins

Created: 2013-07-04 12:59 EST

Category: World > Asia Pacific
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hoping for victory to resolve the “twisted parliament" in the July 21 poll, urged voters on Thursday (July 4) to back his ruling bloc as campaigning began.

Japan has suffered a parliamentary gridlock ever since Abe led the Liberal Democratic Party to a massive defeat in a 2007 upper house vote.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan faced a similar headache after sweeping to power in 2009, only to lose a 2010 upper house election.

A massive win for the party could be a mixed blessing.

It gives Abe a mandate but also bolsters the ranks of MPs who may oppose painful reforms many say are needed to revive growth.

And this may be detrimental for Japan, according to Temple University Japan's professor of Asian Studies, Jeff Kingston.

[Jeff Kingston, Professor of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan]:
"I think if the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) wins big, they control both houses of the Diet, many members of Abe's party won't feel the great sense of urgency to adopt sweeping reforms. This means that structural reform and Abe's growth strategy are going to suffer and I think there will be a backlash in the markets."

Kingston predicts general apathy from the general public.

[Jeff Kingston, Professor of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan]:
"I expect in the upper house elections, the turnout again will be low. So it seems that a lot of voters have been turned off by the Japanese political system," he said.

Resident Shiho Hashizu echoes the sentiment that there’s a lack of choice in a real opposition.

[Shiho Hashizu]:
“I don’t know who to vote for. The whole of Japan seems to lack upright, hard workers. Each party lacks guts. We feel like, ‘a true hero, please step forward!’”

Many wonder if Abe will shift gear to focus on constitutional reform.

Stress on his conservative agenda, including efforts to recast Japan's wartime history with a less apologetic tone, would further strain relations with China and Korea.

A win on July 21 could set the stage for the first stable, long-term administration since 2006, since no national election need be held until 2016.