Off and running in Japan's Upper House election

Campaigning for the upper house election officially kicked off on Thursday. Politicians are taking their messages to the streets, trying to win over voters for the July 21 poll.

The focus

The ruling bloc says it's all about stability as it looks to press on with implementing its policies. The Liberal Democratic Party and ruling coalition partner Komeito are talking about how tax revenue has been increasing, and employment numbers are improving.

The opposition's argument is that the Abe administration has been in power too long and has grown complacent and arrogant.

Numbers of Candidates

Candidates will vie for 124 seats in this election, 50 of which will be assigned via proportional representation.
370 candidates are running. That is 19 fewer than in the election three years ago.
But there are more women running than ever before: 28 percent of the candidates this time.

Major Campaign Issues

The latest NHK opinion poll, taken June 28 to 30, showed that social security will be a big issue in this vote. That has been a theme of recent national elections as people worry about how Japan's aging society and shrinking population will affect the pension program.

In June, the Diet debated a controversial report that said people will need 20 million yen, around $185,000, in savings when they retire to make up for revenue shortfalls. The government refused to accept the findings. Opposition members said that response was just an attempt to cover up an inconvenient truth.

In the NHK survey, two thirds of respondents said the pensions issue would influence their vote "very much" or "to some extent."

Consumption tax is also an important issue. The ruling bloc plans to raise the rate from eight percent to ten in October, arguing that the revenue is necessary to bolster the social security system and for fiscal consolidation. Opposition parties say the tax hike could dent household consumption and hurt the economy. They want to address income inequality and raise taxes on corporations and high-income households, or implement administrative reforms.
NHK's poll showed an electorate divided on the merits of a tax hike. The poll found 25 percent in favor of it, 37 percent opposing it and 32 percent who couldn't say either way.

And there was a similar division over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's long-held aim of amending the constitution.
The poll found 27 percent in favor of it, 30 percent against it, and 33 percent who couldn’t say either way.

Abe wants a new provision codifying the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces. Komeito is calling for cautious debate of the proposal.
Most opposition parties are firmly against Abe's idea.

The ruling coalition holds 70 seats that won't be up for grabs in this election.
To keep its majority, it needs to win 53 this month.
But there is another benchmark. To call a national referendum on constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister needs to control two-thirds of the legislature. He has the numbers in the lower house. The question is: will there still be enough coalition seats and other pro-amendment forces in the upper house after the election?

Voting will take place Sunday, July 21.