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Japan parliamentary polls open as conservatives eye win

Polls are open in Japanese elections, and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is hoping to return to power after a three-year hiatus. The party's leader, Shinzo Abe, could return as prime minister.

Leader of Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves to voters during a campaign event in Kawaguchi, near Tokyo, Japan, 15 December 2012. Political leaders made their final campaign speeches on the eve of the general election. The latest opinion polls show that the Liberal Democratic Party may return to power after a three-year blank since they were defeated by the Democratic Party of Japan in August 2009. EPA/FRANCK ROBICHON

Shinzo Abe

Just over 100 million of Japan's population of 127 million people are eligible to take part in Sunday's elections, which are likely to see an end to the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

The latest opinion polls suggest voters are likely to dump Noda and his Democratic Party in favor of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan for most of the past several decades.

This would pave the way for a return to the prime minister's office of Shinzo Abe (pictured above), who held the premiership from 2006 to 2007. However, surveys also indicate that up to 40 percent of eligible voters remain undecided. It is also unclear what role a number of newly formed parties could play in the make up of the new legislature.

If elected, Abe has pledged to heal Japan's economic woes by implementing policies targeting deflation.

An Abe-led government could also be expected to take a harder line in foreign policy. The conservative has pledged to "repair the Japan-US alliance and firmly defend our territorial soil and waters."

This could appeal to some Japanese voters just days after North Korea carried out a successful rocket launch that passed over Japan and amid a brewing dispute between Tokyo and Beijing over a chain of islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.

More than 1,500 candidates are running in Sunday's election for the 480 seats that make up Japan's lower house of parliament.

Projections from television stations are expected shortly after polls close at 1100 UTC on Sunday.

mz/ch (AFP, dpa, Reuters)