Japan's top political leaders made their final appeals to voters on Saturday before crucial parliamentary elections that could bring a sweeping victory for the opposition and break the ruling party's decades-long grip on power.
Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose ruling Liberal Democratic Party is widely seen as an underdog in Sunday's balloting for the powerful lower house of parliament, called on voters to stick with his party. "Can you trust these people? It's a problem if you feel uneasy whether they can really run this country," Aso told a crowd in Oyama City, north of Tokyo, warning them against a vote for a change.
Aso said more time is needed for economic reforms aimed at pulling the country out of one of its worst slowdowns since World War II, and asked for support "so our government can accomplish our economic measures."
Rival Yukio Hatoyama, who heads the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, traveled to western Osaka to address urban voters, urging them to support change and saying they face a historic choice _ a mantra he has repeated throughout the two-week campaign and which appears to be paying off.
The two party leaders were to speak separately at opposite sides of a major Tokyo train station Saturday night, when campaigning officially ends.
Recent polls have shown the Democrats were keeping their momentum going into the final days of the campaign and were likely to win a two-thirds majority in the 480-member lower house. Polls by major newspapers, including the Mainichi and the Asahi, said Hatoyama's party is likely to win more than 320 seats, sharply higher than the 112 it held before parliament was dissolved in July. The Liberal Democrats have governed Japan since 1955 with the exception of one period of less than a year in 1993-1994. They had 300 seats in the lower house before the elections, and several polls have projected the number could plummet to 100.
If the opposition party wins, Hatoyama will almost certainly be named Japan's next prime minister in a special session of parliament which could come in mid-September.
Japanese media have already started predicting a timeline of events, such as when a new Cabinet will be formed, on the assumption that the opposition party will be victorious.
During the campaign, the 62-year-old opposition leader appealed to voters with promises that he would cut wasteful government spending, rein in the power of the bureaucracy and put more money in consumers' pockets by holding off tax hikes that the ruling party has said are in the works.
On Japan's diplomacy, Hatoyama said he wants Japan to be more independent from the United States, Tokyo's key trading partner and military ally.
But Hatoyama, who holds a doctorate in engineering from Stanford University, insists he will not seek radical change in Japan's foreign policy, saying the US-Japan alliance would "continue to be the cornerstone of Japanese diplomatic policy."