TOKYO (AP) — Japan's ruling party on Monday welcomed its sweeping gains in a Tokyo assembly election 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 became the largest single bloc after winning nearly half of the 127-seat Tokyo metropolitan assembly, according to final vote count by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The ruling party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, won 59 seats, up from 39 seats going into Sunday's election. Its coalition partner, a Buddhist-backed conservative group, maintained 23 seats, enough for the two parties together to have a comfortable majority.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a member of the ruling party, told a news conference that the results "couldn't be better" with all ruling block candidates elected. "It was a blessing from the Tokyo voters to the Abe government."

Abe, who has focused on strengthening Japan's economy and defense policies, has a high national approval rating. Since taking office in December, his wider agenda has included revising Japan's pacifist constitution to allow a stronger military and push for education to defend Japan's wartime actions.

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 new Japan Restoration Party, led by Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Japan's second-largest metropolis, Osaka.

Though Hashimoto was hoping to build his party into a nationwide political power, he has been criticized 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 U. S. military patronize adult entertainment establishments in Japan to help reduce sex crimes committed by American troops.

His party won only two seats, down from its current three, in the Tokyo assembly. The result puts heavier pressure on the party to do well in the parliamentary elections since Hashimoto has already indicated he would resign as party chief if it performs badly.


Associated Press Writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to the report.


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