TOKYO (AP) — Leaders of Japan's major political parties kicked off campaigning Tuesday for this month's parliamentary elections in nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima prefecture, where more than 100,000 people remain displaced from their homes in the region.
Nuclear energy and reviving the stagnant economy are key issues in the Dec. 16 election, which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's unpopular Democratic Party of Japan is expected to lose after three years in power.
But with polls showing more than 40 percent of voters are undecided, many are not excited about any particular party.
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era, is leading in polls but unlikely to win a majority in the 480-member lower house of parliament.
The most likely outcome of the election is a coalition government composed of parties that could have competing interests. That could mean more gridlock despite urgent needs to tackle Japan's many complex problems, from reining in its national debt and coping with a graying population to reconstructing communities wiped out by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
"By starting right here, we are reaffirming our belief that the reconstruction of Japan is not possible without the reconstruction of Fukushima. We hope to start Japan's rebirth," Noda told a small crowd in Iwaki, a city just southwest of the 20-kilometer (12-mile) no-go zone surrounding the Fukushima plant, which spewed radiation into the surrounding farmland and ocean after the tsunami set off meltdowns in three reactors.
Government officials concede they don't know when residents who lived around the plant will be able to return.