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Politics

Abe's Cabinet approves plan to hold upper house election on July 21

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday approved a plan to hold an upper house election on July 21 following a two-week campaign period from July 4.

The upcoming election comes amid a recent furor over a controversial pension report that raised concerns about the reliability of the country's public pension system.

Another focus will be on the decision by Abe, who has been facing pressure amid signs that Japan's economy is slowing, to raise the consumption tax in October.

"We have built a sustainable (public pension) system. We'd like voters to see that we have been striving to enhance social security," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

Earlier in the month, Finance Minister Taro Aso refused to receive a report by a panel of experts which contained an estimate that the average retired couple would face a shortfall of 20 million yen ($186,000) under the current pension system if they live to be 95 years old. The panel was set up under the Financial Services Agency, which Aso oversees.

The Cabinet's approval of the House of Councillors' election schedule came on the last day of the current Diet session. Abe is scheduled to hold a press conference later in the day.

A senior member of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party has said the ruling party is aiming to win at least 63 seats, or a majority of the 124 up for grabs, with its coalition partner Komeito.

At present, the ruling coalition does not hold a two-thirds majority in the upper house, the threshold necessary if Abe wants to amend the pacifist Constitution. Abe has said he hopes to see a revised Constitution in 2020.

An upper house election needs to be held as the six-year terms of half of the current members end on July 28.

Speculation had grown in recent months that Abe might dissolve the more powerful lower house for a snap election to coincide with the upper house race. But he decided against a double election, senior administration officials have said.

During the regular session from Jan. 28, the Diet enacted legislation to expand child-care support by offering free preschool education. It also revised a law to ban parents and other guardians from physically punishing children following fatal cases of abuse committed in the name of discipline.

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