Japan general election in final day of campaigning

PM Yoshihiko Noda (L) and Shinzo Abe (R), file images PM Yoshihiko Noda (L) faces a challenge from Shinzo Abe

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Candidates in the Japanese general election on Sunday have been making their final pleas for votes.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) appears poised to oust the Democratic Party (DPJ) after only three years in office, with former PM Shinzo Abe likely to return to the top job.

Mr Abe told voters outside Tokyo he would restore economic growth and restore pride in the country.

But many voters remain undecided, amid disillusionment in Japan over politics.

Keiko Seki was listening to Mr Abe's address in Wako, north of the capital, but was unconvinced: "I find this election very difficult to decide who to vote for," she told the Associated Press.

Mr Abe has made the economy a central plank of his campaign, promising to boost public spending to end the 20-year slump.

But he has also promised a more assertive foreign policy at a time when tensions with China are running high.

"We want to restore a Japan where children are proud to have been born here," he told voters.

Nuclear debate

Mr Abe's centre-right LDP was swept from office by the DPJ in 2009, ending more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule.

Japan election: Key parties

  • Democratic Party of Japan, in power since 2009 but seen as inexperienced
  • Liberal Democratic Party, the giant that ruled Japan for half a century before being ousted by the DPJ
  • Japan Restoration Party, led by two right-wing leaders who say Japan needs a "third force"
  • Tomorrow Party, led by the Shiga governor who is campaigning on an anti-nuclear platform

The DPJ promised more welfare spending and a better social safety net, but struggled to deliver amid the economic downturn and 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

It has also seen multiple leadership changes - Yoshihiko Noda is the third DPJ prime minister since 2009.

He lost public support over the move to double sales tax, something he said was necessary to tackle Japan's massive debt.

The debate over nuclear energy, restarting suspended reactors and his perceived flip-flopping on the issue have also affected his popularity.

Mr Abe served as prime minister from 2006-2007 before stepping aside amid plummeting poll numbers, citing illness.

He and his party say nuclear energy has a role to play in resource-poor Japan's future. Mr Abe has also called for a tough stance on the territorial row with China over East China Sea islands that both countries claim.

Shintaro Ishihara (L) and Toru Hashimoto (R) campaigning on 29 November 2012 New parties - such as the tie-up between the Tokyo and Osaka leaders - are attracting attention

Latest figures indicate that the LDP will win a clear majority, together with its traditional ally, the New Komeito Party.

Another party in the mix is the right-wing Japan Restoration Party, led by two high-profile populist leaders, controversial right-wing former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

Mr Ishihara - whose plan to buy the disputed East China Sea islands using Tokyo government funds reignited the territorial row - wants Japan to take a more muscular stance on the issue. But support for the party waned somewhat amid ambiguity over its nuclear policy.

Another new party, led by Shiga governor Yukiko Kada, wants to phase out nuclear power in a decade. Former DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa has thrown his support behind this party.

But 40% of the electorate have yet to decide who to vote for, according to recent polls.

"All the candidates are speaking out ahead of the election, but I'm not so sure they'll carry out any of their promises," the Associated Press news agency quoted Hiroko Takahashi, 51, a resident of a Tokyo suburb, as saying.

"I'm hopeful about the new parties, but I also wonder if I should trust one of the older parties."

All 480 lower house seats are up for grabs in the election.

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