Published:  12:22 AM, 11 October 2017

Gloves off as Japan poll campaign starts

Tokyo's popular governor Yuriko Koike launched a bitter attack on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday as the gloves came off for the official start of a snap election campaign in the world's third-largest economy.  Conservative premier Abe, 63, is facing an unexpected and fierce challenge from the media-savvy Koike, who has upended the sleepy world of Japanese politics with her upstart Party of Hope.

Addressing hundreds of commuters at a busy Tokyo station via loudspeaker, Koike called on supporters to end the politics of Abe, lashing out at the long-serving premier over recent scandals that have weighed on his popularity.

The political status quo has continued while politics itself has lost the public's confidence, charged the former TV anchorwoman, 65. The 12-day campaign will be fought around reviving Japan's once world-beating economy and the ever-present threat of North Korea which has threatened to sink the country into the sea. Koike's Party of Hope has swallowed up and replaced most of the main opposition party in the space of a week, transforming Japan's staid political landscape.

But surveys suggest her bandwagon is grinding to a halt as she refuses to run herself for PM in the election, focusing on running the world's most populous city with three years until Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.

A poll in the top-selling Yomiuri daily suggested that 32 percent of voters plan to vote for Abe's conservative LDP with 13 percent for the Party of Hope down six percentage points from the previous poll in late September.  Abe is seeking a fresh term at the helm of the Asian economic powerhouse and key US regional ally and unexpectedly called a snap election to capitalize on a weak and fractured opposition.

But Koike stole his limelight by launching her party, attacking Abe's government for being too slow to reform the country, weighed down by an ageing population, deflation and a huge debt mountain.

Abe returned to power in December 2012 and has pushed a nationalist social agenda as well as his trademark Abenomics economic policy, promising to kick deflation and achieve two-percent inflation with stable growth in two years.  But nearly five years later, he has failed to deliver on those pledges.

-AFP, Tokyo

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