Tokyo (Japan), June 23: The official campaigning for Japan's House of Councilors election began on Wednesday, with the ruling and opposition parties focusing on issues including inflation concerns and arguments over whether a more robust defense posture is necessary.
For the upper house election scheduled for July 10, a total of 125 seats are up for contest among the 248 members' seats, and over 530 people are expected to file their candidacies.
The triennial election is a critical test for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to assess voter confidence in the performance of his government since taking office nearly nine months ago.
The voters will mainly decide on how well the Kishida government did in bolstering the country's COVID-19 response and scrambling to curb surging prices of energy and everyday items like food to ease the pain on households among other issues.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under the leadership of Kishida aims to maintain a majority of the seats in the upper house with its coalition partner Komeito, which is important for them to run the government stably for the next three years.
"This election has put under the spotlight who can deliver results in facing major challenges including the rebuilding of Fukushima, the fight against the novel coronavirus, response to the Ukraine crisis and rising prices," Kishida said in a stump speech in Fukushima Prefecture.
"We need political stability to overcome these challenges," Kishida said, calling for voters' support.
The LDP's target of maintaining a majority of the upper house seats requires winning 56 seats in the election as half of the 248 seats are fixed and uncontested. The target, down from the 69 seats they had before the election, is generally regarded as not so difficult.
Rising prices in Japan have become a pivotal issue of contention for both the ruling and opposition parties in the campaign.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) criticized the LDP for a lack of concrete steps by the government to alleviate consumer worries, calling it "Kishida inflation."
"We cannot tolerate politics that ignore your lives and your household budgets," said CDPJ leader Kenta Izumi in the northeastern Aomori Prefecture, adding that the Kishida government has lacked a sense of urgency in addressing the issue.
"The CDPJ has been repeatedly saying this price increase has a negative impact on many people, and things are starting to change. Rising prices have become a point of contention in this election," Izumi said.
Kishida has refuted the idea that he is to blame for inflation, attributing the issue to the Ukraine crisis since late February that has sent energy and raw material prices soaring, which has dampened the Japanese economy and largely affected people's daily life.
A number of politicians, especially those within the LDP, have called for beefing up Japan's defense and a sharp increase in defense spending.
The LDP has expressed its hope to allow the nation, which has been long committed to an exclusively defense-oriented policy, to bolster its defense and acquire a so-called "counterstrike" capability against missile threats.
Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii disagrees. "War or peace. Japan's fate depends on this election. We seek to advance by appealing we will stop war and bring hope to people's lives," he said in an address in Tokyo.
In Japan, upper house members serve six years, and half of the seats in the 248-member House of Councilors are contested every three years.
For the July election, a total of 125 seats are contested, including 74 in electoral districts and 50 by proportional representation, together with one left vacant in the other half of the chamber.