Campaigning For Upper House Election Begins

Campaigning for Upper House election begins

Candidates for Japan's Upper House election are officially kicking off their campaigns, with voting set for July 21.

The election may prove to be a barometer of public opinion on the current administration's six and a half years in power.

It could also become a referendum on the government's key policies such as raising the consumption tax in October as scheduled.

Another key issue is the state pension plan. The election comes after the government rejected a report that says elderly couples may need massive savings to supplement their pensions. The country is dealing with an aging population and shrinking workforce.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the ruling coalition is aiming to maintain a majority which is not seen as a very high hurdle.

Here's how the election will work. Currently the Upper House has 242 seats. But since representatives are elected on staggered 6-year terms, only half are up for grabs.

To correct a disparity in the value of each vote, the house is adding three seats during this and the next election. That means 124 seats will be filled.

Voters will directly choose 74 representatives. The remaining 50 will be selected through proportional representation.

Right now, the ruling coalition has 70 seats which are not part of this election.

In order to keep its majority, it needs to win another 53.

Political watchers are eyeing another benchmark.

In order to call a national referendum on constitutional amendments, Abe needs two-thirds support in both chambers. The ruling coalition has the required numbers in the Lower House.

And if things stay the same after this election, the prime minister can rely on pro-amendment forces to reach the required numbers in the Upper House. At the same time, opposition leaders want to use this opportunity to expand their power.

Official campaigning will continue through July 20, the day before the vote.