Abe eyes fresh term as Japan votes under N Korea threats

2017-10-22 12:31
A voter casts her ballot in a general election at a polling station in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko, AP)

A voter casts her ballot in a general election at a polling station in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko, AP)

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Tokyo - Millions of Japanese braved typhoon conditions on Sunday for a snap election likely to hand Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a fresh mandate to revive the world's third-largest economy and press his hard-line stance on North Korea.

If pre-election surveys prove correct, Abe's conservative coalition will cruise to a crushing majority to win a fresh term at the helm of the key US regional ally and Asian economic powerhouse.

Polling stations opened across the country at 07:00 (22:00 GMT on Saturday) with voters battling high winds and driving rain as an election-day typhoon barrelled toward Japan.

Analysts say that if the weather affects turnout, it is likely to benefit Abe, whose conservative voters are more determined, putting the nationalist blueblood on course to become the country's longest-serving leader.

"I support Abe's stance not to give in to North Korea's pressure," one voter, Yoshihisa Iemori, said as he cast his ballot in Tokyo.

"I'm focusing on this point for the election," the 50-year-old construction firm owner said.

The near-constant drizzle throughout the campaign has not dampened the enthusiasm of hundreds of doughty, sash-wearing parliamentary hopefuls, who have driven around in minibuses pleading for votes via loudspeaker and bowing deeply to every potential voter.

But with little doubt over the eventual result, the suspense lies in whether Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner will retain its two-thirds majority in the lower house.

Such a "supermajority" would allow Abe to propose changes to Japan's US-imposed constitution that forces it to "renounce" war and effectively limits its military to a self-defence role.

Ballot boxes close at 20:00 (11:00 GMT) when broadcasters publish generally reliable exit polls.

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