In Japan, never give a lady a sweaty candidate

In a bid to garner women's votes, the main opposition party issues 20,000 manuals that offer candidates advice on visual appeal.

Japan's main opposition party is hoping to garner votes in the upcoming general election by giving candidates a quick course on how to impress women.

Recent newspaper polls show support among women for the Democratic Party of Japan at around half the level seen among men. In an effort win back a share of the female vote in the Nov. 9 poll, the party has distributed 20,000 copies of a manual for candidates on everything from personal hygiene to fashion tips.

The visual aspects of a campaign have a strong impact on how a woman's opinion is formed, explains party spokesman Kenichi Suzuki. The manual advises that fingernails should be trimmed and that dandruff is a turnoff. Candidates should strive to make a good first impression by wearing tidy clothes and sporting an attractive hairstyle.

The party has introduced other visually pleasing tactics to woo women voters, such as stylishly designed promotional postcards, he adds.

Young women in particular tend not to listen to what a candidate has to say, as looks are more important to them, says Mr. Suzuki. The manual suggests candidates be aware of bad breath and avoid sweating unless obviously engaged in strenuous activity. It also admonishes them not to say anything insensitive.

The effort suggests an attempt to take some of the shine off the appeal of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. His striking hairstyle and maverick image make the divorcée an easy pitch for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's marketing gurus.

Mr. Koizumi's pin-up poster qualities were a key reason for his reelection as party leader in September. The LDP currently has about 50 percent support in recent opinion polls, with equal support from men and women.

With only 15-20 percent support in the polls, the opposition hopes that broadening its appeal will enable it to win enough seats to form a coalition to oust the LDP, which has governed for the past 50 years, except for a few months in 1993.

Past elections have blandly endorsed the status quo due to the formidable LDP vote-getting machine.

But as normally powerful interest groups, such as the construction industry and the postal-workers union, gradually lose political clout, the Democratic Party is going all-out to woo such key demographic sectors of the community as women and the elderly.

The opposition campaign is even reaching out to voters in outlying areas as the extravagant public spending that underpinned loyal LDP support from rural voters becomes increasingly scarce.

While few expect the LDP to lose its grip on power, hopes are high that a long process of realignment toward a more traditional two-party parliamentary system may be accelerating. "This (general) election will be more of a shake-out process than the previous ones" since electoral laws were reformed in the early 1990s, says Sheila Smith, a Japan expert at the East West Institute in Hawaii. The' names of opposition politicians are no longer as unfamiliar to voters as they were 10 years ago, she says.

For the first time, major parties have drafted clear election manifestos with timetables and budgets for everything from reviving the economy to participation in the reconstruction of Iraq.

In addition, the Democratic Party's recent merger with the second-largest opposition party will enable the two to field unified candidates in many districts where the opposition vote had been split.

If the Democratic Party can increase its majority, analysts say the LDP would have to develop more cohesive policies, helping move politics further from cronyism and toward genuine debate.

Hence the confident nod toward perceived female sensibilities. "I think we're definitely going to see some results" from the campaign, Suzuki says.

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