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Japan Prepares for General Elections

Campaigning officially began in Japan Tuesday for the first general election in more than three years. It will determine whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gets to stay in his job. Candidates across the country are appealing to the voters and polls are showing that almost half of the electorate has not decided for whom to vote.

The November 9 election features more than 1,100 incumbents and challengers vying for seats in the lower House of Parliament. The focus, however, is really on just two of the candidates - the incumbent prime minister and an opposition party leader who has the best chance of taking the top job.

Naoto Kan, a former health minister, leads the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, which was recently strengthened by its merger with the smaller Liberal Party.

Mr. Kan, at a kickoff election rally on Tuesday, says he wants to end the era of bureaucrats running the government. He says he also wants to boost decentralization and rid the government of corruption. He told the crowd that the election is about whether or not Japan will have a two-party system.

The Democrats say their goal is to capture more than 200 seats, which would be a significant increase from the 137 they now hold.

Six political parties have put forward candidates for the national election.

The one that has held power virtually without a break for the past half-century is the Liberal Democratic Party, which despite its name follows a conservative agenda. Its leader, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is vowing to maintain the LDP's alliance with two other parties.

Part of the strategy of the Liberal Democrats is trying to steal the script from the opposition and portray themselves as the party of reform, rather than the status quo, as Mr. Koizumi explains.

Mr. Koizumi vows to win over opponents of economic reform. He says his reform policy is vital for reviving the nation's economy and giving hope for a better tomorrow to the people of Japan.

Koizumi, during a candidates' debate on Monday, said he would step down as prime minister if the governing coalition loses its lower house majority.

Analysts and polls suggest the coalition will probably retain its majority, but could fall short of Mr. Koizumi's stated goal of winning more than half the seats in the lower house of the Diet.

Of the 480 contested seats, 300 are single member districts, where the candidate with the most votes wins. The remaining are multiple-seat proportional representation districts from eleven regional "blocks" in which voters may choose either a candidate or a party.