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Abe calls for constitutional revision with upper house race in sight

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, on June 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pressed his case on Wednesday for amending the country's Constitution as he sought voter support for realizing his cherished goal ahead of an upper house election in late July.

At the end of a regular Diet session on Wednesday, Abe said political stability is important in proceeding with reform of the country's social security system and carrying out "powerful diplomacy" at a tumultuous time in global affairs.

"It's going to be an election in which voters will choose from political parties such as one that does not even try to talk about the Constitution or parties and candidates that clearly present their views and promote debate on them," Abe said at a press conference.

Official campaigning will start on July 4 and voting will take place on July 21 as the six-year terms of half of the current House of Councillors members end on July 28.

Abe has expressed hope for revising the Constitution in 2020 even though the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito currently does not have a two-thirds majority in the upper house needed to initiate a national referendum on the reform of the supreme law.

The upcoming election comes amid a recent furor over a controversial pension report that raised concerns about the country's public pension system.

When asked about the impact of the pension issue, Abe said, "All issues could affect the upper house election."

Opposition parties have been stepping up criticism of the government's handling of the pension report, which came when Abe is seeking to enhance social security for all generations.

Earlier in the month, Finance Minister Taro Aso refused to receive a report by a panel of experts which contained an estimate that the average retired couple would face a shortfall of 20 million yen ($186,000) under the current pension system if they live to be 95 years old. The panel was set up under the Financial Services Agency, which Aso oversees.

The decision by Abe to raise the consumption tax in October from the current 8 percent to 10 percent is another focus of the election amid signs Japan's economy may be losing its growth momentum.

A senior member of Abe's LDP has said the ruling party is aiming to win at least 63 seats, or a majority of the 124 up for grabs, with its coalition partner Komeito.

Speculation had grown in recent months that Abe might dissolve the more powerful lower house for a snap election to coincide with the upper house race. But he decided against a double election, senior administration officials have said.

"I have consistently said it is not on my mind at all," Abe said at the press conference, responding to a question asking why he decided not to dissolve the lower house.

During the regular session from Jan. 28, the Diet enacted legislation to expand child-care support by offering free preschool education. It also revised a law to ban parents and other guardians from physically punishing children following fatal cases of abuse committed in the name of discipline.

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