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Japan's PM in last-ditch bid for votes ahead of election

world Updated: Jul 10, 2010 11:45 IST
AFP
Naoto Kan

Japan's new Prime Minister Naoto Kan made a final plea for votes on Saturday during the last day of campaigning for upper house elections seen as a referendum on his party's 10 months in office.

The Sunday vote will be the first national test at the ballot box for Kan since he took office last month, and for his centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) after it swept to power last August under a different leader.

A total of 437 candidates across the nation as well as party leaders urged the public to support them. A total of 121 seats are up for grabs half the members of the upper house.

"Eventually, today is the final day," Kan told supporters in Fukui, central Japan, according to Jiji Press. "Our election (campaign) will continue to the last minute."

Kan, a pragmatist who has vowed to restore Japan's tattered finances, is seeking popular support to draw a line under a period of revolving-door politics that has seen five new premiers in four years.

The outcome of the poll will determine whether Japan emerges with a strong government that can tackle the country's problems including sluggish growth and a public debt mountain and one that remains mired in coalition politics.

But Kan, a 63-year-old former leftist activist and a fiscal hawk, who has called for debate on a possible doubling of the consumption tax to 10 percent, faces a tough test.
Recent newspaper polls predict Kan's coalition may fall short of holding on to its majority in the upper chamber, meaning he could face a deadlocked parliament unless he seeks new political allies.

Surveys show support for Kan and his cabinet has plunged with voters put off by talk of a tax hike.

The Asahi Shimbun's latest poll found Kan's approval rating had nose dived to 39 per cent from 60 percent a month ago, while the Yomiuri Shimbun reported his support at 45 per cent, down from 64 per cent.

The DPJ, which holds 62 uncontested seats, needs to win at least 60 seats on Sunday to gain a clear majority by themselves an outcome considered highly unlikely.

The ruling coalition the DPJ and the People's New Party, a tiny group favouring higher government spending would need 56 seats to maintain their hold on the upper house.

Under Kan's predecessor and political blue-blood Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ transformed politics in Asia's biggest economy, ending almost a half century of conservative rule by sweeping the lower house election last August.

But Hatoyama fell out of favour with voters over political funding scandals and for his waffling style, especially on a damaging dispute over a US airbase, and was replaced by Kan on June 8.

The figures in newspaper polls also mirror fickle public opinion about Kan's four predecessors, who became prime ministers with high approval ratings but all left the job after short stays with dwindling public support.

The internal affairs ministry has reported more than four million people have already cast votes ahead of election day, more than voted early for the previous upper house poll in 2007.

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