Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiles as Abe speaks to the media at the headquarters of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo, Sunday, July 21, 2019. Prime Minister Abe's ruling coalition appeared certain to hold onto a majority in Japan's upper house of parliament following Sunday's election, with exit polls indicating he could even close in on the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions.(Yohei Kanazashi/Kyodo News via AP)

Japan's ruling coalition secures upper house majority

July 21, 2019 - 11:34 am

TOKYO (AP) — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition secured a majority in Japan's upper house of parliament in elections Sunday, according to vote counts by public television and other media.

NHK public television said Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito had won 68 seats in the upper house as of midnight, with 11 seats remaining. In order to reach a two-thirds majority needed to propose constitutional revisions, Abe would have to gain support from members of another conservative party and independents.

Up for grabs were 124 seats in the less powerful of Japan's two parliamentary chambers. There are 245 seats in the upper house — which does not choose the prime minister — about half of which are elected every three years.

Media surveys had indicated that Abe's ruling bloc was to keep the majority in the election, with most voters considering it a safer choice over an opposition with an uncertain track record. To reach the two-thirds majority, or 164 seats, Abe needs 85 more seats by his ruling bloc and supporters of a charter change.

Nonetheless, Abe welcomed the results, saying winning a majority indicates a public mandate for his government.

"I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan's national interests," Abe said in an interview with NHK.

Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost his chances to revise Japan's pacifist constitution — his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.

But it's a challenge because voters are more concerned about their jobs, economy and social security. Abe, who wants to bolster Japan's defense capability, is now proposing adding the Self-Defense Force, or Japan's military, to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He said he is not considering running for another term.

Abe said resolving the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and signing a peace treaty with Russia would be his diplomatic priorities during the rest of his term.

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 Japan's aging population.

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

He 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 also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.

Abe needs approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a constitutional revision and seek a national referendum. His ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.

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

At a polling station in Tokyo's Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe's 6 1/2-year rule.

A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have 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, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was 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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