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Voting Ends in Japan's Parliamentary Elections - 2004-07-11

Voting has ended in Japan's parliamentary elections to select half the members of the Upper House. Although Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's name was not on the ballot, the election is seen as a mandate on his administration.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's popularity has dropped below 40 percent, the lowest since he took office three years ago.

The opposition democrats are looking for gains in parliament's upper house, appealing to voters angry about higher premiums and cut benefits in the pension system and public opposition to Japan's military deployment in Iraq.

During the last few hours of campaigning, Prime Minister Koizumi talked about his conservative administration's economic policies.

Mr. Koizumi said that, under the leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party, the world's second largest economy has recovered to a degree better than had been forecast. He called Sunday a day of judgment for his reform efforts.

Opposition Democratic Party President Katsuya Okada appealed to voters for a change in leadership. Mr. Okada said this election will signal if the opposition can take power in the next general election.

Media forecasts indicate the Democrats, who sharply boosted their strength in the more powerful lower house in last November's general election, have a good chance to capture more seats than the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday's election.

The coalition needs to only capture 43 of the 121 seats being contested to retain its majority. Even a loss of that majority would not cause a change of government because it is the lower house that selects the prime minister.

If the LDP wins less than 50 seats, political analysts say the prime minister will face pressure from within his party to take responsibility.

A very poor showing could even prompt calls for his resignation. But political analysts say there is no obvious successor waiting in the wings and a weakened Mr. Koizumi would likely retain his position for the time being.