More than 75 percent Japanese voters will vote

More than three-fourths of eligible Japanese voters plan to cast ballots in hotly contested parliamentary elections September 11, far more than in other recent elections, according to a newspaper poll released this week.

According to a Mainichi newspaper poll, more than 75 percent of respondents said they would "definitely vote" in elections for Japan's powerful lower house. Another 19 percent said they would "probably vote." Public interest has been high since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the lower house last month and called elections, especially after he enlisted popular figures from business and academia to bolster his ruling Liberal Democratic Party's election lineup.

The newspaper said it expected turnout to greatly exceed the 59.86 percent that voted in the last lower house elections in 2003 -- the second lowest turnout in recent history. A poll released later Monday by public broadcaster NHK showed 44 percent of respondents saying they are "extremely interested" in the upcoming elections and 38 percent saying "somewhat interested," while 9 percent said "not so interested" and 4 percent "not interested at all."

A separate poll by the Nihon Keizai newspaper showed Koizumi's popular support ratings were unchanged since he dissolved Parliament, at around 47 percent, with support for his ruling party two points lower at 43 percent. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, was supported by 23 percent of respondents, up three points from mid-August but still 20 points behind the LDP, it said.

Japan's ailing pension system, medical care and support for its rapidly increasing elderly population topped the list of election issues identified by respondents, and was picked by 37 percent, according to the Mainichi poll. About 23 percent said the reform of Japan's postal services -- which Koizumi has tried to make a central issue in the elections -- was the most important issue.

Koizumi dissolved the lower house after a set of bills to privatize the country's sprawling postal service, savings, and insurance system was voted down in Parliament with the help of some members of his own party. Koizumi has since expelled those members from the LDP, fielding pro-reform candidates across the country and calling the elections a referendum on reform.

Also Monday, a poll by the Asahi newspaper said 53 percent of respondents were in favor of postal reform, while 21 percent opposed it. Support for reform was greater in larger cities, at 58 percent, than in smaller towns and villages, at 47 percent.

The same poll found that 42 percent hoped Koizumi would return to office, while 25 percent said they preferred DPJ head Katsuya Okada. The Nihon Keizai and Asahi polls were taken August 31-September 3, and surveyed 73,600 and 11,700 respondents respectively. The Mainichi poll, taken Sept. 1-3, had 90,000 respondents, and the NHK surveyed 1,185 people Sept. 2-5. All polls were conducted by telephone and gave no margin of error, CNN reports.

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