The leader of the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama, right, has pushed a message of change [AFP]

Political parties in Japan have been campaigning in one of the country's most hotly-contested elections in decades.

In depth

 Profile: Taro Aso
 Profile: Yukio Hatoyama
 Japan election: Party pledges
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Voters will head to the polls on August 30, in an election for the more powerful lower house of Japan's parliament that could end five decades of almost uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democrat party (LDP).

Opinion polls indicate Taro Aso, the LDP leader and country's prime minister, is set for a bruising defeat while Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is scoring high marks.

But analysts have cautioned that a large block of undecided voters could yet swing the vote in the LDP's favour.

The following are some of the two main parties' key pledges:

Economy

Japan's economy grew 0.9 per cent in the second quarter of this year – the first growth in more than a year - to emerge from its worst recession in half a century.

The growth came mostly on the back of government stimulus measures and increased exports.

But domestic consumer spending remains fragile, incomes have plunged and unemployment is at record levels.

DPJ
Increase household income to increase consumption via steps such as child allowances.

Achieve stable growth by transforming the economy to one led by domestic demand.

Bring down the corporate tax rate for small and medium-sized companies to 11 per cent from the current 18 per cent.

Establish a nationwide minimum wage of $8 an hour and aim to raise it to $10.

LDP
Achieve annualised economic growth of two per cent by the second half of fiscal 2010, which starts next April.

Boost average disposable household incomes by $10,560 within 10 years.

Secure two million jobs over the next three years.

 

Environmentalists have condemned Aso's announcement in June of a greenhouse gas reduction target of eight per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 - far below the European Union pledge of a 20 per cent cut.

Climate

 

 

 

Hatoyama, has promised a more ambitious target of a 25 per cent cut by 2020.

But the numbers can be misleading, experts warn.

While the DPJ's target - like those of the United States and EU - includes gains from carbon-trading schemes and reforestation, the LDP's figure does not.

Shuzo Nishioka, a senior researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies, said if carbon trading and tree-planting were excluded, the DPJ's goal would drop to a 15 per cent cut.

DPJ
Cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by more than 60 per cent by 2050.

Create a domestic emissions trading market, place compulsory volume caps on emitters and consider introducing a climate tax.

LDP
Enact a law to promote a low carbon society.

Achieve Japan's 2020 target to cut emissions by 15 per cent from 2005 levels.

Aim for a 20-fold increase in the use of solar power by 2020 and a 40-fold rise from present levels by 2030.

International relations and security

Japan's navy supports the US-led military operations in Afghanistan by refuelling and supplying water to ships used in monitoring and inspecting vessels suspected of links to terrorism or arms smuggling.
 
Critics have raised concerns that the mission did not have explicit support from the United Nations and possibly violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

DPJ
Build a close and equal Japan-US alliance to serve as the foundation of Japan's foreign policy.

Revise the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement, which spells out the terms under which US forces operate in Japan, and re-examine the realignment of US military forces in the country.

Promote free trade agreement negotiations with the US and develop relations of mutual trust with China, South Korea and other Asian countries.

LDP
Stress the US-Japan alliance as the core of Japan's diplomatic and security policies.

Enact laws to allow the rapid participation of Japan's military in operations that contribute to peace.

Take necessary steps to be able to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles aimed at the US.

Continue a naval refuelling mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan.

Source: Agencies