Japan opposition hits back as LDP takes off gloves

TOKYO Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:12am EDT

1 of 3. A woman in the crowd listens to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso's speech on a street in Tokyo in this July 3, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao/Files

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's opposition Democratic Party lashed out Friday at what it charged was a misleading negative campaign by the ruling party ahead of an election that Prime Minister Taro Aso's coalition is in danger of losing.

Analysts say Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), shaken by internal feuds and facing a possible loss in an August 30 poll, is making attacks on the Democrats of a sort rare in a country where many have had an allergy to Western-style negative campaigns.

Struggling to avert an election loss that would mark the end of a half-century of almost unbroken rule, the LDP has made clear its strategy of attacking the Democrats as weak on security policy and irresponsible on public finances.

Wednesday, the LDP ran a full-page advertisement in the conservative Sankei newspaper, with a big, bold-faced headline declaring: "The Future of Japan is in Danger."

Democratic Party Secretary-General Katsuya Okada blasted the ad, as well as recent televised remarks by his LDP counterpart, as containing misleading statements about his party's policies.

"It is natural for there to be healthy criticism and debate about policies, but the stance of the LDP, which is stressing partial, biased information and is not engaging in serious debate, is extremely regrettable and sad," Okada told a news conference.

An opposition Democratic Party victory would usher in a government pledging to pay more heed to consumers than companies, wrest control of policy from bureaucrats to reduce waste, and adopt a diplomatic stance less subservient to ally the United States.

It would also raise the chances of ending a political deadlock resulting from a divided parliament in which the opposition controls the upper house, which has delayed policy implementation as Japan struggles to emerge from a deep recession.

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Surveys show the Democrats in front in the lead-up to the election, and analysts say the LDP, jolted by the prospect of losing power for only the second time since its founding, is adopting the negative campaign in a bid to win back conservative voters.

In one example, the ruling party is running an animated cartoon on its website portraying Democratic leader Yukio Hatoyama as a smooth-talking suitor wooing a woman with fuzzy promises. (See: www.jimin.jp/index.html)

The LDP is also charging the opposition with being under the thumb of the teachers' union, a group anathema to conservatives.

"It's an old political trick, although new in Japan. The LDP may try to make the most of it," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano of the LDP's strategy.

"The question is whether it will come out as desperate and unseemly, or convince some undecided voters. It's not clear because we've not seen anything like this before."

The LDP's No. 2 repeated his criticism of the Democrats' policies and rebutted media charges that his own party was way behind schedule on finalizing their campaign platform.

"You can't say it's better just because you've put it out earlier," LDP Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda said in an interview with a group of reporters.

"It's odd to say it's good when it's sloppy ... They may be presenting it as a pretty rose but it might be an artificial flower."

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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