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Japan election

Japan heads to polls as Abe seeks voter support of agenda

Prime minister keen on revising pacifist constitution after upper house election

A voter casts a ballot at a voting station during Japan's upper house election in Tokyo on July 21.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Polls opened in Japan on Sunday for the triennial election for the House of Councilors, the upper chamber of the country's bicameral parliament, a day after leaders of the ruling and opposition parties made their last-minute pitches to voters.

The camps clashed over issues including the planned increase in the consumption tax in October and pension and other social security issues during the 17-day official campaign period.

Attention is now focused on whether the Liberal Democratic Party-led government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which was inaugurated in December 2012, will be able to win the confidence of voters.

Another focus is whether the LDP, its junior coalition partner Komeito and other forces that are positive about revising the postwar pacifist constitution, such as Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party), will be able to maintain a two-thirds majority in the 245-member upper house.

Voter turnout as of 4 p.m. was at 22.72%, significantly lower than the 27.25% at the same time in the previous upper house election, in 2016.

Upper house elections are held every three years, with about half of the chamber's 245 seats up for grabs. Members serve six-year terms, with half of them facing reelection every three years.

As the LDP president, Abe has seen the party win five large-scale national elections in a row, from the 2012 election for the House of Representatives to the 2017 election for the more powerful lower house.

Abe's LDP presidential term expires in November 2021. There is a possibility that the results of Sunday's upper house election will affect his unifying force in running the government and his strategy toward the proposed revision of the constitution.

According to Nikkei's survey of the upper house election race, the LDP and Komeito are likely to together secure half of the 124 seats that are currently open.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei survey also showed that the so-called "pro-constitutional revision forces" are closing in on the two-thirds majority needed for the Diet to propose revising the supreme law, including the upper house seats not available in this poll.

Nine of the upper house seats held by the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, are currently available. The Nikkei survey showed that the CDP was close to winning twice as many as these nine seats.

Four opposition parties, including the Democratic Party for the People, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, as well as the CDP, fielded unified candidates in all of the 32 constituencies.

Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party) is aiming to win seats outside its stronghold of Osaka prefecture.

On Saturday, the final day of official campaigning, the ruling and opposition parties focused on making their last-minute pitches for voter support.

Official campaigning ended on Saturday and campaign activities, such as calling for voters to cast ballots for specific candidates, on Sunday are not permitted.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. on Sunday. Votes are counted the same day and most of the election results are expected to become clear in the early hours of Monday.

Sunday's election sees 370 candidates vying for 124 seats -- with 74 seats elected from constituencies and 50 seats chosen through a proportional representation system.

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