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Japan's ruling bloc set for upper house majority

Tokyo

PRIME Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc is set to keep a solid majority in Japan's upper house election on Sunday and with allies could seal the two-thirds majority needed to keep alive his dream of revising the pacifist constitution, an NHK exit poll showed.

Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, the Komeito party, will take 67-77 of the 124 seats being contested in parliament's 245-seat upper house. That, together with uncontested seats, assures them a majority.

Mr Abe said that his ruling coalition's solid win showed that voters supported debate over his proposal to revise the post-war, pacifist constitution.

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Still up in the air, however, is whether the ruling bloc and its allies will keep the two-thirds "super majority" needed to begin the process of revising the constitution's pacifist Article 9 to further legitimise the military, a controversial step. To maintain that majority, pro-revision forces need to win 85 seats. NHK's exit poll said they would take 76 to 88 seats.

The charter has not been amended since it was enacted in 1947 and changing it would be hugely symbolic, underscoring a shift away from post-war pacifism already under way. Article 9, if taken literally, bans maintenance of a military but has been stretched to allow armed forces for self-defence.

Surveys show voters are divided over changing it, with opponents worried doing so would increase the risk of Japan getting entangled in US-led conflicts.

Mr Abe also said on Sunday that a scheduled rise in the sales tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in October was necessary for the social security system and to gain international trust.

Opposition parties have focused on voters' finances, including a potential hit on spending from the rise in the sales tax and strains in the public pension system in the shrinking, fast-ageing population.

LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai told a TV broadcaster on Sunday that he'd support Mr Abe if he wanted to seek a fourth term as ruling party president when his current tenure ends in September 2021. That would require a change in party rules. Mr Abe will become Japan's longest-serving premier if he stays in office until November. REUTERS