Japan's parliamentary election could give Prime Minister Abe enough seats in parliament to amend the constitution. That could open the door to a vote to re-establish its military capability.
Japanese voters went to the polls Sunday to cast ballots in parliamentary elections that are expected to benefit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Even though support for Abe is lukewarm, there is considerably less support for the opposition.
When Abe campaigned for office in 2012, he sought to get the world's third-largest economy growing again, and to modify the country's constitution, eliminating a clause that renounces war.
Up for grabs in the election are half of the seats in parliament's upper chamber - the House of Councillors.
Voting began at 7:00 a.m. (2200 GMT/UCT Saturday), and results should be known shortly after the polls close at 8:00 p.m.
Japan's economy has suffered from chronic deflation for years. Abe vowed to end it with massive amounts of easy money, and other steps, which came to be known as Abenomics.
At first his stimulus plan seemed to work. Stock prices were up sharply and businesses were generating record profits as the yen declined, making the currency more competitive.
Despite the effort, however, Japan's economy is, again, contracting, with weak consumer inflation.
A recent poll found that 41 percent disapprove of Abe's economic policies. But support for his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a less-than-resounding 37 percent, far outpaced the 11 percent for the main opposition Democratic Party.
"As in past elections, voters are likely to passively endorse the Abe administration due to a lack of alternatives," said Koji Nakakita, professor of politics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.
One new twist to this election is that the minimum voting age has been reduced from 20 to 18. No one knows how many of these young voters will actually go to the polls, and just how they'll vote when they get there.
But if things go as Abe hopes, his coalition and a loose group of hawkish conservatives from smaller parties can grab a two-thirds majority in the upper house.
That would give Abe the power to begin amending the constitution.
Nationalists have long fumed over a clause in the document that renounces Japan's right to wage war, which nationalists slam as a relic of Japan's World War II defeat.
Any legislation that garnered the two-thirds majority needed to pass both houses would face another hurdle in the form of a national referendum.
bik/bk (AFP, AP)