Tokyo: In what could fuel up the furor with China, Japan`s conservative Liberal Democratic Party surged back to power in a major election victory on Sunday.
Just three years after it was defeated in 2009, former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led LDP trounced PM Yoshihiko Noda`s ruling Democratic Party of Japan and bagged 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament, according to a tally from public broadcaster NHK.
The official results are yet to be out.
The election victory for LDP means that Shinzo Abe will return as Japanese PM and will be the seventh PM in six-and-a-half years.
LDP has ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era till 2009, when Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan came to power.
Abe’s win also spells a rightward shift in the government that further signifies a possible increase in tensions with China over the disputed islands in South China Sea.
In the first election since the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, even though polls show about 80 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power.
The fact that LDP is the most pro-nuclear power party, suggests that atomic energy ended up not being a major election issue even as it was the first election since 2011’s triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
Also, a new, staunchly anti-nuclear power party won just nine seats, according to NHK.
It seemed that people were more plagued with economic troubles and hence Noda’s party which didn’t live up to its campaign’s promises and couldn’t mend the stagnant economy, had to bite the dust.
The DPJ won in a landslide three years ago amid high hopes for change, but won only 57 seats, compared to 230 seats before Sunday`s election, according to the NHK tally. Among the casualties were eight Cabinet ministers, the most to lose their seats in an election since World War II, the Kyodo News agency reported.
With Japan stuck in a two-decade slump and receding behind China as the region`s most important economic player, voters appeared ready to turn back to the LDP.
A serious-looking Abe characterized the win as more of a protest vote against the DPJ than a strong endorsement of his party.
"I think the results do not mean we have regained the public`s trust 100 percent. Rather, they reflect `no votes` to the DPJ`s politics that stalled everything the past three years," he told NHK. "Now we are facing the test of how we can live up to the public`s expectations, and we have to answer that question."
Calling the results "severe," Noda told a late-night news conference he was stepping down as party chief to take responsibility for the defeat.
"I apologize deeply for our failure to achieve results," he said. "It was the voters` judgment to our failure to live up to their expectations."
The LDP will stick with its long-time partner New Komeito, backed by a large Buddhist organization, to form a coalition government, party officials said. Together, they now control 325 seats, securing a two-thirds majority that would make it easier for the government to pass legislation.
Noda said a special parliamentary session would be held before year-end to pick a new prime minister. As leader of the biggest party in the lower house, Abe will almost certainly assume that post.
The new government will need to quickly deliver results ahead of upper house elections in the summer. To revive Japan`s struggling economy, Abe will likely push for increased public works spending and lobby for stronger moves by the central bank to break Japan out of its deflationary trap.
President Barack Obama congratulated Abe in a statement issued Sunday, declaring that the U.S.-Japanese alliance "serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific."
It remains to be seen how Abe will behave this time around, though he is talking tough toward China, and the LDP platform calls developing fisheries and setting up a permanent outpost in the Senkaku/Daioyu islands, a move that would infuriate Beijing.
The LDP wants to revise Japan`s pacifist constitution to strengthen its Self-Defense Forces and, breaching a postwar taboo, designate them as a "military." It also proposes increasing Japan`s defense budget and allowing Japanese troops to engage in "collective self-defense" operations with allies that are not directly related to Japan`s own defense.
With Agency Inputs