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TOKYO - Japan's ruling coalition retained a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives following Sunday's general election, giving Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a public mandate to implement his COVID-19, economic and national security agenda.
But Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party lost some seats and suffered a number of high-profile losses, with Akira Amari set to resign as the party's secretary general following his defeat to an opposition rival.
The LDP and its smaller partner Komeito secured at least 261 of the 465 seats in the powerful chamber of parliament, enough to effectively control all standing committees and steer the legislative process, according to exit polls and early returns.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which had criticized the LDP-led government's pandemic response and vowed to reduce income disparities, also fell short of the 110 seats it held despite unifying candidates with other groups including the Japanese Communist Party.
Meanwhile, the Japan Innovation Party, an opposition group that did not join the CDPJ-led alliance, won nearly 40 seats, nearly quadruple the number it held prior to the election.
Citing the fact the LDP alone secured a majority, or 233 seats, in the chamber, Kishida said the outcome gave him a mandate to pursue his campaign promises including bolstering the medical system against COVID-19 and putting the world's third-largest economy back on a growth track.
"Based on this outcome, we want to run the government and manage parliamentary affairs in a steady manner," he told reporters.
Kishida, however, said he will "think carefully about the impact" of the LDP falling short of the 276 seats it held prior to the election.
Parliament is set to convene a special session on Nov. 10 to confirm that Kishida will remain prime minister, with a Cabinet expected to remain largely unchanged to be launched the same day.
Facing his first major test since taking office on Oct. 4, Kishida had promised to spur economic growth while redistributing the spoils to the middle class under his vision of "new capitalism."
The government will secure more hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients in preparation for a possible sixth wave of infections and will draw up a stimulus package within the year to help people and businesses hit hard by the pandemic, he said.
In addition to deciding whether Kishida would gain a public mandate, the election was also seen partly as a referendum on nearly nine years of LDP-led government under Kishida's predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.
The CDPJ-led alliance argued the government has botched its COVID-19 response, and that the Abenomics policy mix has only served to widen income disparities by boosting corporate earnings and share prices while failing to achieve higher wages.
Photo shows hands of a person listening to a politician making a stump speech in Tachikawa in Tokyo on Oct. 30, 2021, a day before a general election. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
Media polls had suggested the ruling coalition would retain its majority in the lower house, which has special powers not given to the upper chamber, the House of Councillors, including having the final say in electing the prime minister, passing state budgets and ratifying international treaties.
Of the lower house seats, 289 were decided in single-member constituencies under a first-past-the-post system. Another 176 were filled by proportional representation, in which parties are awarded seats based on how many votes they get in 11 regional blocks.
Amari lost the single-member district seat in his constituency in Kanagawa Prefecture to the CDPJ's Hideshi Futori, but he will remain in the lower house by taking a seat through proportional representation.
An estimated 55.95 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, according to data collected as of 3 a.m. Monday, on course for the third worst turnout in the postwar era.
A record-low 1,051 candidates ran, fewer than the previous low of 1,131 in the 2005 general election.
A Kyodo News survey conducted earlier this week showed LDP candidates were in close battles with opposition rivals in around 70 single-member constituencies, with about 40 percent of voters still undecided.
The CDPJ challenged the ruling coalition by allying with the JCP and other opposition parties to get behind the same candidates in more than 200 competitive constituencies.
"Our strategy produced certain results," CDPJ leader Yukio Edano said during a program on public broadcaster NHK. "We were neck-and-neck with candidates supported by the ruling coalition."
The opposition parties called for lowering the consumption tax to lessen the burden on low- and middle-class households, allow married couples to take separate surnames and recognize same-sex marriage.
They also argued for abandoning nuclear energy in favor of renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions.
The ruling coalition, meanwhile, criticized the CDPJ and its allies for banding together despite their differing stances on foreign and security policies, saying such discrepancies make them unfit to govern.
The CDPJ put the Japan-U.S. alliance at the core of its foreign and security policy platforms, but the JCP called for abolishing the security treaty between Tokyo and Washington -- a scenario that would please China, Russia and North Korea.
The LDP aims to double defense spending to around 2 percent of gross domestic product to deal with Beijing's military buildup and missile threats from Pyongyang, and says it will consider acquiring the capability to launch strikes on enemy bases as part of efforts to boost deterrence.