| GEO World|
| Japan votes in upper house polls in key test for new PM|
| Updated at: 0819 PST, Sunday, July 11, 2010|
TOKYO: Voters cast their ballots in Japan's upper house election Sunday, a crucial test for new prime minister Naoto Kan and the 10-month-old centre-left coalition government.
The government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is seeking to retain a majority in the upper house to match its control of the powerful lower house, which it won last summer in a landslide victory.
But pre-election polls have indicated the coalition is likely to fall short of its aim, with many voters turned off by Kan's proposal for a debate on a tax hike to restore battered public finances.
Around 104 million Japanese are eligible to vote and more than 9.5 million voters have already cast early ballots. Polling stations close at 8:00 pm (1100 GMT), with media exit polls expected immediately afterwards.
A failure by the ruling camp to secure a majority in the chamber, in which half the 242 seats are up for grabs, would make it harder for it to pass laws and bring the risk of political deadlock.
The vote is regarded as the first referendum on Kan, a 63-year-old former leftist activist, who took power on June 8 after former premier Yukio Hatoyama resigned over funding scandals and a US military base dispute.
It is also the first national test at the ballot box since the DPJ swept to power under Hatoyama last August, transforming politics in Asia's biggest economy after a half-century of almost unbroken conservative rule.
"I voted with a feeling that it would be wasteful if the change of government we had last year proves to be nothing," retiree Hiroko Uchiyama said after casting her ballot at a Tokyo voting station.