Shinzo Abe returns as Japanese PM after snap election

Japan`s Parliament on Wednesday confirmed Shinzo Abe for another term as prime minister after his election triumph, but the return to power stirred warnings from China over a bid to change the pacifist constitution.

AFP| Updated: Dec 24, 2014, 17:30 PM IST

Tokyo: Japan`s Parliament on Wednesday confirmed Shinzo Abe for another term as prime minister after his election triumph, but the return to power stirred warnings from China over a bid to change the pacifist constitution.

The lower house voted overwhelmingly for 60-year-old Abe with 328 votes against 73 for acting opposition leader Katsuya Okada. That was followed by an upper house poll which officially confirmed Abe as premier.

His new cabinet was largely unchanged with Taro Aso returning as deputy premier and finance minister, Fumio Kishida as foreign minister and Yoichi Miyazawa in the industry minister post.

Industry is a key portfolio that oversees Japan`s nuclear power sector, as Abe looks to restart more atomic reactors shuttered after the 2011 crisis at the Fukushima plant.

The only new face was Gen Nakatani, replacing Akinori Eto as defence minister after Eto declined reappointment in the midst of a political funding scandal.

Nakatani, 57, headed the defence agency -- later upgraded to a government ministry -- in 2001-2002.

"The environment surrounding Japan has been drastically changing, so I was told to prepare security legislation to enable seamless responses," Nakatani said at the prime minister`s office, quoted by Kyodo News.

On top of trying to kickstart the world`s number three economy, Abe has vowed to pursue a nationalist agenda, including persuading a sceptical public of the need to revise the pacifist constitution.

But efforts to alter the charter, imposed by the US after the end of World War II, have proved divisive at home and strained already tense relations with China.

"Abe and his new defence minister... need to tread carefully," China`s official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.

"The two both advocate a stronger role for Japan`s Self-Defense Forces, and the international community should keep a wary eye on them and constantly remind them not to go too far."

Relations, however, have begun to thaw after a more than two-year chill that Beijing blamed partly on Abe`s provocative nationalism, including a visit to a controversial war shrine, and equivocations on Japan`s wartime record of enslaving women for sex. Abe is to speak to reporters around 9:10 pm (1210 GMT) before holding his new government`s first cabinet meeting, said Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary who is Tokyo`s top spokesman.

The prime minister`s incumbent cabinet resigned en masse Wednesday morning, following the ruling coalition`s victory in December 14 polls that were billed as a referendum on Abe`s economic growth blitz, dubbed Abenomics.

The conservative leader has pledged to concentrate on resurrecting the economy, calling it his "top priority". But many observers said the snap election was more likely aimed at fending off rivals before a ruling party leadership vote next year.

Abe`s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition swept the ballot, winning a two-thirds majority in the lower house. The upper chamber is also controlled by his ruling bloc.

Japan had appeared on track for recovery after Abe swept to power in late 2012, but an April sales tax rise slammed the brakes on growth and plunged the economy into recession -- prompting the premier to delay a second rise that had been set for next year.

"We heard people`s voices calling for me to push on with Abenomics," he told a news conference following the election.

As a first step, Abe is expected to announce fresh measures later this week, partially financed by a supplementary budget worth some 3.0 trillion yen ($25 billion) to counter the post tax-rise downturn.

Among the new measures are housing loan subsidies and tuition support for students, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported.

Abenomics -- a blend of big government spending, monetary easing and reforms to the highly regulated economy -- has helped exporters by sending the yen sharply lower and boosted stocks.

But Abe`s failure to implement some of the tough changes economists say are needed -- freeing up the labour market and tackling an inefficient agricultural sector -- has left the premier open to the charge that he is pursuing style over substance.

Analysts say the election victory was less a resounding endorsement of Abe and his policies than a symptom of a weak and fragmented opposition offering few credible alternatives.

According to a post-election opinion poll conducted by the Yomiuri, just seven percent of respondents thought his economic measures were the reason for the victory, while 55 percent said the LDP should have won fewer seats.