The heads of Japan's major parties will hold a public debate on Monday likely to focus on who can best respond to an expected next wave of Covid-19 infections and fix the pandemic-hit economy, two weeks ahead of the national election.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who as the new leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took over the premiership earlier this month, has called the general election for members of the powerful lower house Oct. 31.
Besides the coronavirus response, Japan's defence posture is one of the issues in focus, as China expands its military rapidly and North Korea pushes ahead with its nuclear and missile programmes.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of the Komeito party - the junior partner in Japan's ruling coalition - on Friday raised doubt over the LDP's policy of doubling defence spending, saying the public would not support such an increase when so many areas of social welfare need resources.
On minority rights and women's empowerment, Japan's largest opposition, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), stands for rights including supporting same-sex marriage and different surnames for couples, marking out differences with the LDP.
Women accounted for 18.3% of CDPJ candidates as of Oct. 17, compared with 9.7% for the LDP, according to the Asahi newspaper.
The debate among nine party leaders is scheduled to start 1:00 p.m. (0400 GMT).