Voters walk to cast their ballots in the upper house elections at a polling station in Tokyo Sunday, July 21, 2019. Voting started Sunday morning for the upper house elections where Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition is seen to retain majority, according to local media report. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Japan votes for upper house; Abe's party seen as favorite

July 21, 2019 - 2:30 am

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese were voting Sunday in an election for the upper house of parliament, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc is expected to keep the majority.

Up for grabs are 124 seats in the less powerful of Japan's two chambers that doesn't choose the prime minister. There are 245 seats in the upper house, about half of which are elected every three years.

Media polls have indicated Abe's ruling bloc is expected to keep the majority as most voters consider it as a safer choice over an opposition with uncertain track records.

Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid an aging population.

Abe has led his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.

Abe has prioritized revitalizing Japan's economy and has steadily bolstered the country's defenses in the backdrop of North Korea's missile and nuclear threats and China's growing military presence. He has also showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.

Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost chances for a constitutional revision, his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.

But Abe and his conservative backers also face challenges because voters seem more concerned about their jobs, the economy and social security.

In order to secure two-thirds in the upper house, Abe's ruling bloc and supporters need 85 seats. Media surveys have indicated that Abe's LDP and its partner Komei are expected to win a majority but are less certain to secure a supermajority.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They have also stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — the areas Abe's ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.

At a polling station in Tokyo's Chuo district, voters were divided over Abe's 6 ½- year rule.

A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that has demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe's ruling party and its candidate, as "there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities."

Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, 57 year-old fish market worker, said it's time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.

"I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage," he said.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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