Japan heads to the polls

TOKYO - Ballots cast Sunday for Japan's House of Councillors election will show voters' opinions on whether to solve the current divided Diet, in which the opposition controls the upper house, and whether they support Abenomics.

The most important focus for the 23rd upper house election is whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito can secure a 122-seat majority, including the 59 uncontested seats they currently hold, to end the upper house situation, in which the ruling parties do not have a majority.

The divided Diet has existed for almost six years following the 2007 upper house election, except for a brief period when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took the reigns of government in 2009. If the ruling parties take control of the upper house as a result of this election, the political base of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be solidified considerably.

Sunday's election is the first nationwide election since the current Abe administration, his second, was launched in December. There are 271 candidates running in constituencies, while 162 candidates are running under proportional representation. A total of 433 candidates are competing for the 121 open seats. In upper house elections, half of the 242 seats are contested every three years.

If the LDP and Komeito win 63 seats combined, they will gain the 122-seat majority.

The divided Diet came about after the LDP suffered a major setback in the 2007 upper house election at the time of the first Abe Cabinet when the then ruling coalition lost its majority there. The DPJ-led administration briefly took control of both houses after the 2009 lower house election, but lost control of the upper chamber in 2010.

A major policy issue in the election is the evaluation of the three arrows of Abenomics. Abe told voters in Tsu on Friday, "Political stability is badly needed for [the economy] to grow more and more," emphasising the importance of ending the divided Diet to further promote Abenomics.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi also said during a speech in Tokyo the same day, "We want you to end the divided Diet."

DPJ President Banri Kaieda emphasised the risk of Abenomics in his speech in Hyogo Prefecture on Friday. "It looks good at first glance, but it's very risky. If prices increase, but wages don't, what will happen to our daily lives?" Kaieda asked voters.

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