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August 26, 2009

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Japan's finance minister tries scare tactics to avoid landslide

JAPANESE Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, whose government is facing likely defeat in Sunday's election, tried to lure back voters with a warning yesterday that a big opposition win risked creating one-party "despotism."

In the latest survey, the Sankei newspaper said the opposition Democratic Party was expected to win 300 seats in parliament's 480-seat lower house, ending more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

Other media caution that an opposition win may be less overwhelming.

The Nikkei business daily said an LDP internal survey last week had shown the Democrats winning just under 260 seats while the LDP would get around 160 seats in the election.

"The situation is tough. The angry waves of the Democratic Party are attacking all over Tokyo," said Yosano, who himself faces a fight to hold onto his constituency in the capital.

"If this momentum continues, there is a risk of one-party despotism," he told a news conference.

An opposition win of the magnitude forecast would be almost the mirror image of the results of the last general election in 2005, when charismatic leader Junichiro Koizumi led the LDP to a huge victory with promises of market-friendly reforms.

Since then, Japan has had three more prime ministers and support for the ruling party has sagged due to scandals, policy flip-flops and a perception that the party has failed to address the deep-seated problems of a shrinking, fast-aging population.

Voters may not have high hopes for the novice Democrats, but many seem ready to give them a chance.

"I would like to let them try once and see how much they can do," said Hiroshi Sugimoto, a 43-year-old wine bar owner who plans to vote for them.

Investors in Japan's stock market would welcome a Democratic Party win if it breaks the policy deadlock created when opposition parties won control of the upper house in 2007.

But analysts worry the Democrats' promises to spend more on households - with steps such as child allowances, toll-free highways and farmer subsidies - might inflate a public debt already equal to 170 percent of GDP.

The opposition says it could fund the steps by cutting waste.

"If the Democratic Party were to win, a landslide victory would be better. Otherwise, policies would lack a specific direction," said Kazuhiro Takahashi, a general manager at Daiwa Securities SMBC.

Prime Minister Taro Aso is trying to convince voters that only an experienced LDP can handle problems such as an economy struggling to emerge from its worst recession in 60 years.


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