Japan upper house vote to set ruling bloc’s power

TOKYO: Japanese were voting Sunday in a parliamentary election expected to give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition a strong mandate, though initial reports showed turnout to be lackluster.

A victory would give Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and partner New Komeito control of both chambers of parliament — an elusive goal for the government in recent years. It also may provide the wherewithal for difficult economic reforms and progress on Abe’s a conservative political agenda that could further complicate already testy relations with China and South Korea.

Abe says his top priority is to sustain the economic recovery helped along by aggressive monetary and fiscal stimulus since he took office in late December. In the long run, that will require sweeping changes to boost competitiveness and help cope with Japan’s rapidly graying population and bulging national debt.

“I want them to carry on doing their best as the economy seems to be picking up,” said Naohisa Hayashi, a 35-year-old man who runs his own business.

Despite the potentially huge stakes for the election, early turnout was fitful, local media reported, with the rate of voters casting ballots down several percentage points in most areas.