• Japan ruling coalition expands majority in Upper House — media

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    TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition was on track to expand its majority in Upper House elections on Sunday, media projections showed, in a convincing victory despite lukewarm support for its policies.

    Abe, in power since late 2012, has yet to achieve a strong recovery in the world’s third-largest economy through massive easy money and other steps — so-called Abenomics.

    Voters have also expressed misgivings about his cherished dream of amending the country’s war-renouncing constitution.

    But Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Buddhist-backed Komeito were widely expected to do well as public confidence in opposition parties was seen as even lower.

    The two parties would take between 67 to 76 of the 121 seats — half the chamber — available in the election, up from 59 previously, public broadcaster NHK said.

    Its projections and similar estimates by other media were based on exit polling and other analysis, coming immediately after polls closed at 8 p.m. (1100 GMT).

    The two parties control 77 out of the other half of the upper house that was not contested Sunday, meaning that are set to increase their majority in the 242-seat body.

    The House of Councillors, as the upper house is formally known, is the less powerful chamber in Japan’s bicameral parliament, and half its seats come up for election every three years.

    Abe is also hoping that the coalition and a loose group of hawkish conservatives from smaller parties can grab a two-thirds majority in the upper house, which they already have in the lower chamber — thus giving him the strength to start amending the constitution.

    The media exit polls and analyses said it was possible that the parties favoring constitutional revision could reach such a super majority in the upper house.

    The constitution, which renounces Japan’s right to wage war, is deplored by nationalists as a relic from Japan’s World War II defeat. But many Japanese staunchly embrace its pacifist ideal.

    Any legislation that mustered the two-thirds majorities needed to pass both houses would face another hurdle in the form of a national referendum.

    A key plank of Abe’s economic policy was to finally bury Japan’s on-again off-again battle with debilitating deflation, or falling prices, and he has admitted that the battle is a work in progress.

    “Abenomics has never failed but is still half done,” Abe told voters in Tokyo late Saturday, winding up his election campaign. “All we have to do is to push for the policy firmly and steadily.”

    On Sunday, however, the LDP was clearly taking the election result as a vote of confidence.

    “This is voters’ decision indicating they want to further push for Abenomics,” Toshimitsu Motegi, an LDP senior official, told NHK. AFP

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