Japanese head to booths in crucial election

Japanese head to booths in crucial election

KORIYAMA, Japan - Hürriyet Daily News
Japanese head to booths in crucial election

Photo by Ali Kayalar, Hürriyet Daily News

Aoki Naoya, a 20-year-old architecture student, said his family had encouraged him to cast his first-ever ballot, during a quick interview on the sidelines of a polling place in Fukushima's Koriyama city.

He is just one of the early voters before today's lower house election, which will determine Japan's new prime minister.

"And I wondered what was voting like," he said, adding that his family supported a particular party. As an eleventh-hour survey conducted and published by Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Dec. 15 still points at the Liberal Democratic Party's (LPD) Shinzo Abe as the new premier, the rate of voting remains an issue of curiosity.

Posters of a state campaign calling on citizens to vote were seen on the walls of the polling station.

Naoya said many of his friends were not voting because of the age limit.

Economic problems such as a halt in growth and an increasing trade deficit, along with regional disputes like the fresh missile exercise by North Korea or the islands row with China, are forecast to determine voters' picks, but some Japanese voters have more local concerns.

Seuchi Nagayama, 66, is a journalist from Okinawa. He also cast his vote in Fukushima and told the Hürriyet Daily News that he was in the region to cover the decontamination work there.

Nagayama, an Okinawan who is, like many of his countrymen, angry with a U.S. bid to expand the presence of its Marine Corps in the region, said he is expecting to see respect from the next term’s rulers on the issue, implying that the residents there were already showing "kindness" by letting the U.S. base remain there.

"They should show us their kind hands," he said.

Some 14 million people or nearly 13.5 percent of all eligible voters cast early ballots in the last lower house election in 2009, and the ratio was the highest since Japan introduced early voting in 2003.

Voters in Tokyo are also electing a new mayor to replace Shintaro Ishihara, the right-winger who resigned from his post to cofound the Sunrise Party in November before joining forces with the Restoration Party for the election.