Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi begins elections campaign

An official campaign for a September 11 election began on Tuesday. Both the rivals Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) claimed they were the only people who could enact real reform.

Koizumi, DPJ President Katsuya Okada and other party leaders are set to deliver their first speeches on the streets in Tokyo and other places as the 12-day campaigning got under way for the House of Representatives election.

According to Kyodo News, more than 1,130 candidates are expected to file their candidacies for the 480-seat lower chamber with election boards nationwide Tuesday. The figure is slightly below the 1,159 candidates in the previous election in November 2003.

Koizumi dissolved the lower chamber to call the election on Aug.8 as bills to privatize Japan Post, the centerpiece of his policy agenda, failed to clear the parliament with a larger-than-expected number of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members opposing them in the House of Councillors following their passage in the lower house in July, Xinhua reports.

Opposition leader Okada wants to wrest power from the LDP and form a DPJ-led government. He has pledged to pull Japanese troops out of Iraq by December and try to mend fences with China and South Korea.

Upon the chamber's dissolution, the LDP held 249 seats, its partner New Komeito 34, the DPJ 175, the other two smaller parties15.

The LDP has maintained its grip on Japan for the past 50 years,except for 11 months from July 1993. But the DPJ has been making inroads and in the 2003 election the opposition party did better than the LDP in proportional-representation votes.

Figures released on Tuesday showed that Japan's jobless rate rose to 4.4 percent in July from a seven-year low of 4.2 percent in June, slightly worse than financial markets had expected.

Koizumi's forceful tactics and promises of reform appear to have resonated with many voters.

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