TOKYO (AP) - Japan's ruling party was projected to make big gains in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday that was closely watched as an indicator of how the country's major parties will fare in parliamentary polls next month.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party was likely to become the largest single bloc in the 127-seat Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, according to exit polls conducted by national broadcaster NHK. Other Japanese media made similar projections.
The ruling party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had 39 seats going into the election. Its coalition partner, a Buddhist-backed conservative group, was expected to secure enough seats for the two parties together to have a comfortable majority.
Mr Abe, who has focused on strengthening Japan's economy and defence policies, has a high national approval rating. Since taking office last December, his wider agenda has included revising Japan's pacifist Constitution to allow a stronger military.
The major parties campaigned heavily in the run-up to the election, the biggest before the nation goes to the polls on July 21 to elect members of Parliament's Upper House.
Also being watched was the Japan Restoration Party, a new group led by Mr Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Japan's second-largest metropolis, Osaka.
Though Mr Hashimoto is hoping to build his party into a nationwide political power, he has drawn fire for his recent remarks that sex slavery by Japan's Imperial Army before and during World War II was a "necessary" wartime evil, and for suggesting that the United States military patronise adult entertainment establishments in Japan to help reduce sex crimes committed by American troops.
His party appeared to be struggling to maintain its current strength in the Tokyo assembly. If it does badly in the Tokyo elections, he will be under pressure to resign as party chief.
The final results were expected on Monday.