Japan is voting in upper house elections expected to deliver a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Half of the 242 seats in the chamber are being contested.
Polls show Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its allies could secure a majority, meaning a ruling party would control both houses of parliament for the first time in six years.
The deadlock in parliament has been seen as a key factor in Japan’s recent “revolving door” of prime ministers.
Polling stations opened at 07:00 and will close at 20:00.
Despite the importance of the election, early turnout was a little down from the last upper house poll in 2010.
Japan’s upper chamber, while not as powerful as its lower house, is able to block legislation introduced by the government.
Japan is voting in upper house elections expected to deliver a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
No single party has a majority, although the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has the highest number of seats.
Opposition parties have had enough combined seats to control the upper chamber in recent years, leading to what has become known as a “twisted parliament”.
This has resulted in factionalism and multiple changes of prime minister.
“We need political stability to carry out policies,” Shinzo Abe said ahead of the vote.
“We will get that political stability by winning the upper house election.”
Shinzo Abe has relatively strong public support for his proposals for economic reform known as “Abenomics”, which seek to revive the economy, stagnant for two decades.
“I want them to carry on doing their best as the economy seems to be picking up,” one voter, Naohisa Hayashi, 35, told the Associated Press.
“I want to see a stable government. That’s the LiberalDemocratic Party,” 76-year-old Hiroshi Miyamoto was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying, after voting in the western Tokyo suburb of Hachioji.
But other policy changes that Shinzo Abe is seen as likely to endorse may prove to be controversial.
One is restarting Japan’s nuclear reactors – something many in Japan are opposed to.
Another are nationalistic policies that may cause tension with neighboring countries.
This includes the possible revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, especially a section which prohibits the use of force in international disputes except for self-defense.
People are voting in a general election in Japan, where former leader Shinzo Abe is challenging the current prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda.
Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is expected to oust Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party (DPJ) after just three years in office.
Shinzo Abe promises more public spending and a more assertive foreign policy as tensions with China run high.
Many voters remain undecided, amid disillusionment in Japan over politics.
Shinzo Abe’s centre-right LDP was swept from office by the DPJ in 2009, ending more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule.
The DPJ promised more welfare spending and a better social safety net, but struggled to deliver amid the economic downturn and 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
It has also seen several leadership changes – Yoshihiko Noda is the third DPJ prime minister since 2009.
Shinzo Abe, 58, served as prime minister from 2006-2007 before stepping aside amid plummeting poll numbers, citing illness.
He says he will now use public spending in an effort to end 20 years of economic stagnation, and that nuclear energy has a role to play in resource-poor Japan’s future despite last year’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
People are voting in a general election in Japan, where former leader Shinzo Abe is challenging the current prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda
Shinzo Abe has also called for a tough stance on the territorial row with China over East China Sea islands that both countries claim.
Now Japan looks like it is about to take a dramatic turn to the right.
Relations between Japan and China, which are already poor, could be about to get worse, he says.
Yoshihiko Noda lost public support over the move to double sales tax, something he said was necessary to tackle Japan’s massive debt.
The debate over nuclear energy, restarting suspended reactors and his perceived flip-flopping on the issue have also affected his popularity.
Latest figures indicate that the LDP will win a clear majority, together with its traditional ally, the New Komeito Party.
All 480 lower house seats are up for grabs in the election.
Polls opened at 07:00 and are due to close at 20:00.
Japan election: Key parties
- Democratic Party of Japan, in power since 2009 but seen as inexperienced
- Liberal Democratic Party, the giant that ruled Japan for half a century before being ousted by the DPJ
- Japan Restoration Party, led by two right-wing leaders who say Japan needs a “third force”
- Tomorrow Party, led by the Shiga governor who is campaigning on an anti-nuclear platform