Japan's Shinzo Abe says road ahead not easy

TOKYO – After leading his conservative party to a landslide victory that will bring it back to power after a three-year hiatus, Shinzo Abe stressed Monday that the road ahead will not be easy as he tries to revive Japan’s sputtering economy and bolster its national security amid deteriorating relations with China.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which led Japan for most of the post-World War II era until it was dumped in 2009, won 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament in Sunday’s nationwide elections, the party said.

With the elections over, a vote among the members of parliament to install the new prime minister is expected on Dec. 26. Abe, who was prime minister for a year in 2006-2007, is almost certain of winning that vote because the LDP now holds the majority in the lower house.

Abe, who would be Japan’s seventh prime minister in 6 1/2 years, 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.

Stock prices soared Monday to their highest level since April, reflecting hopes in the business world that the LDP will be more effective in its economic policies than the outgoing Democrats were.

Abe told a packed news conference Monday that Japan is facing a series of crises — from the weak economy to security issues to reconstruction after the tsunami disaster.

“Our mission is to overcome these crises,” he said.

He said his party’s victory was less a vote of confidence from voters and more a repudiation of the “mistaken leadership” of the Democrats.

“The public will be scrutinizing us.”

He said he would like to meet with President Barack Obama in late January or early February to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Chinese bloggers, meanwhile, reacted with scorn to the LDP’s victory, with many concentrating their fire on Abe, a China hawk. Chinese micro-blog sites Monday were full of anti-Abe comments, with some calling for a boycott of Japanese goods.

The countries are embroiled in a territorial dispute over a cluster of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan. During the two-week campaign leading up to the election, Abe took a rather tough line toward China, promising to defend Japan’s “territory and beautiful ocean.”

On Monday, Abe called for improved ties with Beijing while stressing the islands are an integral part of Japan’s territory and that there was “no room for talks” over their sovereignty.

“As with many cases, issues arise with countries that share borders, and what is important is how each nation keeps these issues under control. I feel we need wisdom so that the political issues or problems do not extend to economic problems,” he said.

“Although we are not in a situation where I can immediately visit China or have bilateral talks, first and foremost, we will persistently continue with our dialogue with China and hope to improve relations between the two countries,” he said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced his resignation as party chief late Sunday, calling the election results “severe” and acknowledging his party failed to live up to the nation’s high expectations.

His Democratic Party of Japan said it won only 57 seats. Among its casualties were eight Cabinet ministers — the most to lose in an election since World War II.

Although the election was the first since the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, atomic energy — which the LDP conditionally supports — ended up being a side issue, though polls showed that about 80 per cent of Japanese want to phase it out completely.

The LDP will stick with its longtime 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.

A dizzying array of more than 12 parties, including several news ones, contested in the election, some with vague policy goals.

The most significant new force is the right-leaning, populist Japan Restoration Party, which won 54 seats.

The party is led by the bombastic nationalist former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and lawyer-turned Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto — polarizing figures with forceful leadership styles. Ishihara is another hawk on China, having stirred up the latest dispute with Beijing by proposing Tokyo buy the islands from their private Japanese owners and develop them.

The anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party — formed just three weeks ago — captured only nine seats. Party head Yukiko Kada said she was very disappointed to see the LDP, the original promoter of Japan’s nuclear energy policy, make such a big comeback.

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