Japan votes in upper house elections

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People cast their votes in Japan’s Upper House election at a polling station in Tokyo on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

TOKYO: Japanese voters went to the polls on Sunday in an election expected to strengthen Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand, potentially giving him power to push much-needed economic reforms.

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Half of the 242 seats in the upper legislative chamber are up for grabs, in what is expected to be the last national election for three years.

With approval ratings well over 60 percent on average since December when he won the premiership in a general election, a win for the hawkish premier’s ruling bloc is all but assured.

Control of both chambers will remove political obstacles to Abe’s agenda.

“This election is a fight to achieve political stability,” Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said in a statement released ahead of the voting. “By winning the fight, our party can assume our responsibility to the nation.”

Supporters say that will give him free rein to force unpopular changes on Japan’s long under-performing economy.

They point to the need for reform of the labor market to make it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, participation in a huge free trade pact and a rise in consumption tax, which economists say will help to slow the pace of growth in the already sky-high national debt.

The reforms are the third installment of an economic policy plan dubbed “Abenomics” that has already seen a slew of government spending and a flood of easy money from the central bank.

AFP

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