Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 10:26 UK

Japan election campaign begins

Taro Aso, 18 August
Taro Aso's party has governed for most of the past half century

Campaigning has formally begun in Japan ahead of a general election that could see a rare change of power.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has ruled for more than 50 years, with just one single break of less than one year.

But it is currently trailing in opinion polls behind the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) with less than two weeks to go before the 30 August vote.

Japan has been wracked by its steepest recession in decades, and analysts say this could harm the LDP's chances.

Even though the latest figures show the economy is now growing again, Prime Minister Taro Aso - the LDP leader - admits few people have felt the benefit yet.

The DPJ, led by Yukio Hatoyama, wants to shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers - challenging the status quo that has existed since the end of World War II.

There are pledges of generous allowances for children, pension reforms and tax cuts, but according to the BBC's correspondent in Tokyo, Roland Buerk, the opposition has offered few explanations of how to pay for the plans beyond eliminating waste.

'New era'

Mr Aso seemed determined to fight his corner as he rallied supporters in the Tokyo heat.

Japan"s main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Yukio Hatoyama waves to supporters, 18 Aug

"We will press ahead," he said, boasting of his party's financial stimulus measures a day after new data showed the country - Asia's biggest economy - had lifted out of recession.

"Our economic measures are kicking in for sure," he said.

But had added that his party was "not finished with our efforts to see economic recovery. Recovery is our foremost priority".

Meanwhile Mr Hatoyama called for change, and outlined his vision of a stronger social welfare system and less bureaucracy.

"The day has come to change the history of Japan," Mr Hatoyama said on a campaign tour in the western city of Osaka. "Let's step into a new era with courage."

In a poll released on Tuesday by the Asahi, one of Japan's most influential newspapers, 40% of voters backed the DPJ, compared with 21% who support the LDP.

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