Japan's coalition government faces a key test at parliamentary elections on Sunday as Prime Minister (PM) Shinzo Abe seeks support for constitutional reforms.
Also known as the House of Councilors, the upper house is one of two chambers in the Diet, as the parliament is known in Japan, and half of its 242 seats are up for election.
The ruling coalition, made up of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito Party, already holds more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house, also called the House of Representatives, allowing it to overrule any objections in the upper house, Societe Generale chief Japan economist Takuji Aida observed in a recent note, implying the election itself isn't a threat to Abe.
So while the coalition is widely expected to maintain a majority on Sunday, the key focus is by how much. Two-thirds of the upper house is needed for Abe to start the constitutional amendment process, set to be one of his key legacies alongside Abenomics—the PM's flagship set of economic policies consisting of structural reforms as well as fiscal and monetary support.
"The election results have more important political implications than an economic one," economists at investment bank Natixis in a report this week.
Last year, Abe proposed controversial legislation that would significantly alter the nation's pacifist stance, which was adopted post-World War II. His new policies would allow military forces—called the Self-Defense Forces (SDFs)—to be dispatched abroad without pre-approval from parliament and expand the parameters for engaging in military action under the doctrine of collective self-defense.
"For the pro-amendment parties (the ruling coalition and some in the opposition) to gain the needed two-thirds majority in the upper house, they will need to win 78 seats of the 121 seats up for re-election," said Aida.
But that could be a hurdle as Abe's reforms are deeply shunned among most citizens, who have taken to the streets in recent months to protest the changes.