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Jul 9, 2016 9:39 PM

Economy, security key issues as Japan votes for upper house

The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese are voting in a nationwide election for the upper house that may cement the prime minister's grip on power, as he forges ahead with policies to encourage exports and easy lending to keep a shaky economic growth going.

Half the seats in parliament's less powerful upper house are up for grabs in Sunday's balloting. There is no likelihood of a change of power. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party controls the lower house, which chooses the prime minister. The only contention in the balloting is how much support Abe can win.

Abe had repeatedly stressed during his campaign that his "Abenomics" program to bolster growth is still unfinished, and patience is needed for results. He has not touched on the other part of his agenda, which is to have Japan assert itself more as a military power.

"That is so dangerous, and it may lead Japan into war with other nations and make it a nation without freedoms at home," said Yuriko Keino, a musician and composer living in Tokyo, who was planning to vote later in the day. "We must all raise our voices and come together to protect peace and freedom."

The Liberal Democrats have ruled Japan since World War II almost incessantly with their pro-business policies, and until recently enjoyed solid support from rural areas. The few years the opposition held power coincided with the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear triple-disasters that devastated northeastern Japan. The opposition fell out of favor as inept in reconstruction efforts.

Some Japanese agree with Abe's views on security because of growing fears about terrorism, as well as concerns about the recent missile launches by North Korea and China's military assertiveness.

Sunday's was the first major election after the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18, potentially adding 2.4 million voters. Although "manga" animation and other events were used to woo young voters, results from early and absentee voting show turnout may be low. Many young people are disillusioned with mainstream politics.

Some analysts see 78 as a magic number — the number of seats that would give the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority in the upper house. That kind of support could be enough for Abe to push forward with rewriting Japan's postwar pacifist constitution. But a referendum would still be needed, and public support for pacifism remains high.

Masses of people have come out against nuclear power since the March 2011 catastrophe. But that has not weakened Abe in recent elections, although he has made clear he is eager to restart reactors that were idled after the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl, and make nuclear power a Japan export.

"I voted hoping the economy of the country gets better. I think the economy is still hitting bottom, and I hope it gets better even just a bit so that my life gets easier," said Jiro Yonehara, a "salaryman," as company employees are called, after emerging from a voting booth.


Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama


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