Japan enlists judo, fencing experts to guard ballot boxes

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Daisuke Kono, with his trusty bamboo sword, will play a vital role in Japanese parliamentary elections June 22. For the first time, voting for the House of Representatives is being held in conjunction with triennial ballotting for the House of Councilors.

As a result, the counting will not be done until the day after the election, prompting many election officials across the country to worry about how to keep ballots fire- and tamper-proof.

Thus, kendo (japanese fencing) expert Kono will stand guard all night with his bam! boo sword over the ballot boxes of Fujioka, a town west of here.

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Another village, near Okayama on the inland sea, has placed its faith in five husky judo experts, while one northern town will have firemen mounting an all-nigh vigil over a locked cupboard.

Officials in the industrial city of Yokkaichi, however, appear to have come up with the most sensible idea: All 160 ballot boxes will be brought to the city's gymnasium, where mattresses will be spread over them for election officials to sleep on.

The security issue is just one of the problems created by what promises to be Japan's most interesting postwar election. A major difficulty facing most candidates is the lack of money.

Members of the lower house fought their last election only eight months ago, and party finances have not fully recovered.

This has created an intriguing situation in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is fighting for its life in the face of declining popularity and serious internal rifts.

Each Japanese constituency elects up to five members, so it is entirely possible for different factions within the LDP to be campaigning for hte same seats as part of the overall leadership struggle.

This costs monty, far more than the amount permitted under legal spending limits. The stock market, therefore, has become an important source of funds.

On the Tokyo stock exchange, for example, there are about a dozen stocks known as "shitekabu," which are speculative in nature and bought and sold mainly by the professionals.

The companies' paid-in capital is usually small, but their stock prices are highly volatile. Since the May 19 dissolution of the Diet (parliament), all have been behaving erratically.

The price of Miyaji Iron Works stock, for example, rose to 1,800 yen in late May from 200 at the end of last year. The price of Japan Wool Textile also went through the roof after 15 million shares were bought by a group led by right-wing power broker Ryoichi Sasagawa, an important influence behind the LDP throne.

Security company sources say politicians and their supporters drastically bid up the price of "shitekabu," then sell at a massive profit to obtain campaign funds.

In response, stick exchange authorities recently imposed tight restrictions on the trading of all the volatile stocks. They now allow a daily margin of plus-or-minus 30 yen. Stocks such as Miyaji Iron Works daily have hit this ceiling since the exchange acted.

Japanese politicians are also being held in check by tough campaign laws. Door-to-door canvassing, for example, is strictly forbidden, partly to discourage the once-prevalent practice of gift giving (boxes of beauty soap, for instance).

Candidates are allowed to drive around neighborhoods in sound trucks and broadcast their names. But in tightly packed residential areas many streets are not suitable for such traffic.

So some enterprising candidates are skirting the problem by fixing loudspeakers to bicycles, bicycle trailers -- and even baby prams.

Humorless election officials have begun grumbling about this, insisting that the law permits electioneering only from "motor vehicles and boats." But so far no pram pusher has been arrested.

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