Asia

Robin Harding

A landmark Japanese election – one that all the polls say will see the ejection of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for only the second time in 53 years – is nearing a climax. Voting ends at 8pm in Japan, which is 12 noon in London, and 7am on the US East Coast.

After that, we expect things to move fast. Exit polls should be available rapidly, and with electronic voting in many polling stations, some urban seats may produce results early in the evening, with a possible concession in the early hours of the morning if the outcome is clear.

I will be updating the site throughout the evening, and with correspondents at both LDP and Democratic Party of Japan HQs, we are planning an extensive package on what it all means for tomorrow’s paper.

In the meantime, here’s a guide on what to look out for this evening:

- Voting is in two parts. There are 300 first-past-the-post constituencies and 180 seats elected from 11 proportional representation blocks. The first-past-the-post system means that big swings are possible.

- In 2005, the LDP won 219 constituencies and 77 PR seats, for a total of 296. The DPJ won 52 constituencies and 61 PR seats for a total of 113. For details on the outcome last time, visit Adam Carr’s Elections Archive or Wikipedia.

- The main question, therefore, is whether the DPJ can get to 241 seats and secure an absolute majority. Some polls suggest it will get 300, or even 320, which would mean a two-thirds supermajority and the power to force bills through the Diet’s upper house.

- There are lots of interesting subplots. One is the fate of the smaller parties – New Komeito, the LDP’s Buddhist allies; the Social Democrats; the Communists; and several others – who look likely to be squeezed by the DPJ.

- Another is the fate of several LDP big-hitters who are in danger of losing their seats. Some would be saved via the PR lists – but at grave cost to their prestige.

- Areas to watch include Tokyo, where the DPJ won only one single-seat constituency of the 25 last time, and may win 20 this time. That could include the Tokyo No. 1 district of finance minister Kaoru Yosano, and the Tokyo No. 10 seat of Yuriko Koike, the female former defence minister seen as a possible future leader of the LDP.

- On the northern island of Hokkaido, the LDP is at risk of annihilation in the 12 single-seat constituencies, which would mean defeat for faction leader Nobutaka Machimura, former finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa, and former LDP secretary-general Tsutomu Takebe. With the LDP likely to win a maximum of 3 seats in the Hokkaido PR block, all three would be unlikely to survive.

- Several former prime ministers risk defeat. In Ishikawa No. 2, former PM Yoshiro Mori is in a close race with a 33 year-old DPJ candidate called Mieko Tanaka. Yasuo Fukuda, who was the PM before current LDP leader Taro Aso, is also in a tight race in Gunma No. 4.

Stick with us this evening – whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting.

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for a doubling of Afghan security forces to 400,000 to allow them to take over for Western troops, according to Reuters. “We should develop the capacity of the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so they can take care of their own security,” he said.

In Germany, as Reuters also reports, the government today has been attempting to avoid a debate about pulling troops out of Afghanistan that has intensified after the violence of the elections there.

By Vincent Bevins and agencies

Counting has begun in Afghanistan amid further evidence that turnout was uneven and claims of fraud may need to be investigated.

Election officials have confirmed earlier reports that turnout was low, especially in the south, where incumbent Hamid Karzai’s support is stronger. AP reported that voting in Kandahar, the south’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace, appeared to be 40% lower than in 2004. Abdullah Abdullah, who is more popular with the Tajik communities in the North, may benefit enough from this imbalance to force a run-off.

Scattered violence and clear threats of violence closed at least 800 poll stations (12% of total) and kept many voters from those that were open.

The Guardian reported that Ashraf Ghani, another presidential candidate, acknowledged widespread claims of fraud and hoped they could be resolved through official channels.

Barring hold-ups, some preliminary results may be released as early as Saturday and the final results should be announced 17 September.

The return of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord, to Afghanistan only days ahead of the country’s presidential and provincial elections, was “appalling”, Richard Holbrooke, US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Thursday.

Mr Holbrooke, who was visiting some of Kabul’s polling stations on election day, said he was “moved” by the sight of Afghans going to the polls to chose their leaders, defying threats of violence by Taliban militants.

“What we have seen is what you want to see,” Mr Holbrooke told the Financial Times. “Many predicted that these [elections] wouldn’t be held.”

Read the full story from James Lamont in Kabul here: US envoy hits out at Karzai deal

Follow the day’s events so far on the blog below.

By Vincent Bevins

The credible threat of violence from Afghan militants appears to have been effective in keeping many voters away from the polls. Various reports claim more than two-thirds of polling stations in Afghanistan appear empty when compared to the last presidential elections five years ago.

Correspondents and officials have indicated turnout is better in the more secure north of Afghanistan, where presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah has stronger support. A strong performance by Mr Abdullah would force a second round.

Violence has not been absent, however, with reports of suicide and mortar attacks in various locations throughout Afghanistan.

The supposedly indelible ink which has been used to mark the fingers of voters seems to be removable. Despite this, insurgents have made good on the promise to kill people marked with it in at least one case.

The opening of polling stations has been extended until 6pm local time.

Below are some of the day’s main updates so far.

Newsblog



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About the authors

Leyla Boulton is an editor on the FT's main newsdesk
Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is the FT's media editor
Robin Harding is an FT correspondent in Tokyo
George Parker is the FT's political editor
Sean Smith is an editor on the FT's international companies desk

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