Japan will hold general elections Dec. 16, choosing the 480 members of its House of Representatives, the lower house of the Diet, its parliament, and in the process choosing its next prime minister.
What is nearly clear is that the main issue in the elections will be the state of the economy, the world's third largest after the United States and China. What is much less clear is which of the country's two major parties, the currently ruling Democratic Party or the Liberal Democratic Party, which led the country from World War II until it was supplanted by the DP in the 2009 elections, will end up on top.
What is most likely is that after the results are announced, one of those two parties will be seeking to put together a coalition to govern Japan's population of 128 million, drawing from the 12 other parties fielding candidates in the sweepstakes.
Personalities do not, relatively speaking, play a major role in Japanese elections. The current DP prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, 55, has been in office since Sept. 2011 and is his party's third prime minister since it won the 2009 elections. Shinzo Abe, the head of the rival LDP, is a veteran politician.
Mr. Noda has taken a courageous approach to trying to fix the problems of the Japanese economy. It has had severe problems for years. Its current growth rate is negative, having contracted by 0.90 percent in the third quarter of this year. In recent years it has suffered not only the general pain and misery of a trading nation in the global recession but also the major blows delivered it by the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A budget shortfall caused Mr. Noda to come up with the correct but politically dangerous measure of raising Japan's sales tax, to try to find the money to cover the rising social service costs of responding to the needs of its aging population. Japan's situation in that regard is not unlike that which the United States will face in the not-so-distant future, faced by the requirements of aging baby boomers and trammeled by the concomitant need to balance budgets and keep the national debt under some kind of control.
It will be interesting to see what approach the Japanese electorate chooses at the ballot box, whether it takes its fiscal medicine in the form of higher taxes or whether it goes instead for some of the more imaginative approaches put in front of it by the 10 or so newer and smaller parties.