seats in the election.
A staunch nationalist, Abe has taken a strong stance against China in the dispute over a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. Abe suddenly quit as prime minister in 2007, citing health problems that he says are no longer an issue.
“The day has finally come. Our battle starts today. Our mission to the people is to win this (election) battle,'' Abe told reporters earlier Friday.
Noda's Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide victory in 2009 elections amid high hopes for change, ousting the conservative, business-friendly LDP, which had ruled Japan nearly continuously since 1955.
But those hopes have been dashed amid widespread disgust with the DPJ's failure to keep campaign promises and the government's handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
Voters are also unhappy with Noda's centerpiece achievement during his nearly 15 months in office: passing legislation to double the nation's 5 percent sales tax by 2015. He says the increase is necessary to meet growing social security costs as the country grays.
Recent polls show about 25-30 percent of voters back the LDP, while support for the DPJ is in the low teens. With scattered support for a few other parties, that leaves nearly half of the public undecided, meaning the outcome is still quite unclear.
“I really don't know who to vote for,'' said 62-year-old taxi driver Tetsuo Suzuki. ``I voted for the DPJ in the last election, but they couldn't seem to get things done. I don't really want to go back to the LDP, either.''
“Japan doesn't seem as perky as it used to be,'' he said, ticking off the economy and the territorial dispute with China as the two most pressing issues. ``We want a strong leader who won't bend his principles.''
Tapping into that voter dismay, outspoken leaders in the two biggest cities in Japan have decided to form their own national political parties, but they may not have enough time to get organized for the