Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc has won a solid majority in Japan's upper house election, but his coalition and its other allies fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to push ahead with revising the pacifist constitution, a projection by public broadcaster NHK shows.
Abe, who took office in December 2012 pledging to restart the economy and bolster defence, is on track to become Japan's longest-serving premier if he stays on until November, a stunning comeback after he abruptly ended a first, troubled one-year term in 2007.
Turnout in Sunday's election, however, looked likely to have fallen below 50 per cent for the first time in an upper house poll since 1995, NHK said, a sign many voters feel they lack an attractive option.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner, the Komeito party, were assured 71 of the 124 seats being contested in parliament's 245-seat upper house, NHK showed. That, together with uncontested seats, assures them a majority.
But NHK said the ruling bloc and its allies fell short of the 85 seats needed to retain the two-thirds "super majority" required to begin revising the constitution's pacifist Article 9 to further legitimise the military, a controversial step.
Abe, however, said the size of victory showed voters wanted to debate changing the charter for what would be the first time since its enactment after Japan's defeat in World War Two.
"Of course, we cannot take the timing as a given, but I would like to achieve it (constitutional reform) somehow during my term," Abe said on TV as the evening wore on. Abe's term as LDP president runs until September 2021.
Changing the charter would be hugely symbolic, underscoring a shift away from post-war pacifism already under way.
Article 9, if taken literally, bans maintenance of a military but has been stretched to allow armed forces for self-defence.
Without the two-thirds majority, Abe is likely to try to lure other opposition lawmakers to back his proposal to enshrine the military in the constitution, but that could be tough with a lower house election certain between now and 2021.
Surveys show voters are divided over changing the charter, with opponents worried doing so would increase the risk of Japan getting entangled in US-led conflicts.
Any change must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of parliament and a majority in a public referendum. The LDP-led bloc has a two-thirds majority in the lower house.
Australian Associated Press