Japan candidates hit streets in first national vote since Fukushima disaster

Mon Dec 3, 2012 10:39pm EST
 
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By Kiyoshi Takenaka

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - Candidates hit the streets on Tuesday at the official start of a campaign for a parliamentary election that is expected to return the opposition Liberal Democrats to power but risks furthering the policy stalemate plaguing the world's third-biggest economy.

In a sign that last year's nuclear crisis still weighs on Japan's national psyche, both former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda kicked off the campaign in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, site of the world's worst radiation disaster in a quarter century.

The role of nuclear power is one hot topic in the first national poll since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing meltdowns, forcing 160,000 people to flee and destroying a myth that atomic power is safe, cheap and clean.

Voters are also focused on how rival parties plan to rescue Japan's economy from what looks like its fourth recession since 2000 and cope with a rising China, ties with which have been chilled by a territorial feud that is feeding nationalist sentiment in both countries.

"Our mission is to protect the safety of our children and the public, to protect our territory and beautiful waters," Abe told a crowd in a city square in Fukushima City under cloudy skies. "We are determined to win a majority with (LDP ally) the New Komeito party and take back power.

"We just cannot afford to lose," he said to applause, though one listener carried a placard targeting the LDP's decades-long promotion of nuclear power saying, "It is the LDP that built nuclear plants in Fukushima".

Media opinion polls suggest that of the 12 parties running some 1,500 candidates, the LDP will win the biggest number of seats in parliament's powerful lower house.

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Voters listen to a speech by Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an official campaign kick-off for the December 16 lower house election, in Fukushima, northern Japan December 4, 2012. Abe started his party's campaign for the election kick-off on Tuesday from Fukushima prefecture, where the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years hit the region after being triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Issei Kato