Japan gears up for decisive election

Japan polls

Campaigning began today in an election expected to strengthen Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's control over parliament, ushering in the stability he needs to fix Japan's floundering economy.Voters nationwide will go to the polls on July 21 to elect half of the 242 seats in the upper house of the legislature.

With approval ratings as high as 70 per cent, Abe is expected to romp home, bagging control of both chambers and not having to face a public vote for three years.

Supporters say he will use that political clout to force changes on cosseted and inefficient industries, like agriculture, and to cut a swathe through labour laws that businesses claim make it too difficult to hire and fire workers.

Detractors say he will abandon the economic project of his first six months and get back on his hobby horse revising the constitution, boosting the military and assessing Japan's wartime history.

"We want to stabilise politics and bring you the actual feeling" that the economy is picking up, Abe said in a party leaders' debate yesterday.

As of 10:30 am (local time), 428 candidates were registered at the board of elections. The number of candidates will be confirmed after the 5:00 pm (local time) deadline.

For the first time in Japanese politics, Internet election campaigns are allowed in the upper house vote, with candidates and parties permitted to update followers on Facebook and Twitter.

The opening months of the Abe administration have seen a blizzard of economic policies, starting with vast government spending programmes and a flood of easy money from the printing presses of the central bank.

The drive dubbed "Abenomics" is intended to be completed with reforms that the prime minister hopes will make it easier to do business in Japan.

Details are scant at present, but Abe's wish list includes lowered corporate taxes, special business zones in some big cities, more women in the workplace and Japan's

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