Things to know: Japan’s parliamentary election

Japan-electionTOKYO: Japanese cast ballots Sunday to fill half the seats in the upper house of parliament. Here are some things to know:

What is the upper house?

The House of Councillors, as it is formally known, is the smaller and less powerful side of Japan’s bicameral legislature, or Diet.

Its 242 members serve six-year terms, with elections every three years for half the seats.

What does it do?

The body is designed for careful deliberation, somewhat similar to the US Senate, but lacks the power and prestige.

Most legislation must pass it to become law, however its decisions can be overturned by the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, though that rarely happens.

Who can run and vote?

Japanese citizens over the age of 30 can run. Upper house elections tend to attract candidates with national fame, such as television personalities and athletes, regardless of their political experience and policy chops.

For the first time, anyone over the age of 18 can vote. Previously the voting age was 20.

What are the key issues?

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a member of the lower house, is not up for election. But voters will consider his steerage of the economy, which has yet to result in as robust a recovery as promised.

His ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and other conservatives are aiming to gain enough seats to control two-thirds of the upper house, part of their controversial goal to amend Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.

What is the likely result?

The jury remains out on the prime minister’s unconventional “Abenomics” economic policies in place for over 3 1/2 years, while many voters appear wary of revising the pacifist constitution.

But burned by an unpopular 2009-2012 left-leaning government, voters are likely to stick to the status quo, with surveys pointing to Abe and his allies cruising to victory.

But voters have in the past used upper house elections to punish the ruling party. In 1998, then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto resigned when the LDP fared poorly after a consumption tax increase delivered a body blow to the economy.

Abe is highly likely to avoid such a fate as he recently announced a delay in a planned tax increase.