TOKYO, Japan - Hundreds of candidates vying for a seat in Japan's parliament made their final pitches on Saturday in an election expected to see the return of the country's old guard.
Opinion polls show the Liberal Democratic Party on course for a convincing victory in Sunday's lower house election, with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda set to pass into history as the sixth consecutive one-year premier.
Hawkish LDP leader Shinzo Abe is predicted to return to the premiership, a job he held without much distinction in 2006-7, in a move that may herald a hardening of Japan's foreign policy at a time of heightened tensions with China.
As light rain fell over Tokyo, some of the over 1,500 candidates running in the poll stood before train stations to make final pleas to voters, while their staff held banners with the candidates names and parties printed in bold typeface.
Abe donned a white windbreaker to speak with with voters in Wako-city, Saitama prefecture, north of the capital, reiterating his promise to reform Japan's education system, Kyodo News said.
Abe has pledged in previous campaign speeches to "repair the Japan-US alliance and firmly defend our territorial soil and waters".
Candidates have until 8:00 pm (1300 GMT) to campaign.
LDP leading in surveys
In one of the last gauges of the public mood before Sunday's vote, polls published Friday showed the LDP and its junior coalition party set to achieve a possible two-thirds majority in the lower house ballot.
That would hand Abe a mandate to try to fulfil his campaign pledge of bolstering Japan's military and coastal defences, particularly on the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
On Thursday Japan scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese plane entered airspace over the Japanese-held chain. Tokyo said it was the first time a Chinese state-owned plane had breached its airspace.
North Korea's rocket launch earlier this week could also boost the right-wing vote in a country that lives uneasily next door to an unpredictable Pyongyang.
Polls indicate that despite a strong current of anti-nuclear feeling since the March 2011 tsunami sparked reactor meltdowns at Fukushima, an array of smaller parties promising an atomic exit may struggle to gain traction.
On the economic front Abe has been vocal in calls to tackle deflation that has beset the economy, vowing to impose a three percent inflation target on the Bank of Japan and forcing it to buy bonds -- effectively deficit financing.
He has since rowed back after criticism he was endangering the independence of the central bank. But his comments helped pull down the high yen, delighting exporters hit hard by the surging currency.
Noda's Democratic Party of Japan struggled in government to live up to the promise of its barnstorming 2009 election win that cracked the LDP's half-century virtual stranglehold on power. - Rappler.com