Liberal Democrat Party achieve landslide victory in Japanese elections

With Japanese prime ministers changing almost every year, Japan yesterday saw its seventh prime minister in as many years, with Shinzo Abe of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) becoming the country’s new leader. After three years in which the country was governed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), most recently led by Yoshihiko Noda, the LDP, the party which had previously enjoyed half a century of almost unbroken rule, were back in power.

Shinzo Abe, is now assured of becoming prime minister after his party achieved a landslide victory in yesterday’s election. Unofficial reports state that the LDP won almost 300 seats of a 480-seat assembly, while the DPJ reportedly lost over 170 seats, in what Noda called a “severe” result. The LDP will now hold a two-thirds majority in the lower house with its coalition partner.

This will be the second time that Abe has led Japan; he last acted as prime minister in 2006, but stepped down after a troubled year in office. He will now be only the second Japanese politician since the war to twice serve as prime minister. The official reason given for his previous resignation was illness, though many commentators believe that it had more to do with sharply diminishing support for his administration, which was marred by scandal. Months before Abe quit, his Liberal Democratic Party had suffered a heavy defeat in upper house elections. But Abe says that he has learned the lessons of his ignominious debut as prime minister. “Our victory this time does not mean trust in the Liberal Democratic Party has been completely restored,” he told a news conference today. “Rather, it was a decision by the public that they should put an end to the political stagnation and confusion over the past three years, caused by the Democratic Party’s misguided political leadership.”

His political focus is escaping the postwar regime, by revising Japan’s pacifist constitution and advocating a more assertive international presence. Nurturing a strong patriotic sentiment, he said that there was “no room for negotiation” on the issue of territorial disputes with China, and called the disputed islands Japan’s “inherent territory”. It is thought that one of Abe’s biggest ideological influences was his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who became prime minister in the late 1950s, after being arrested, but never charged, for alleged war crimes. Abe has also vowed to rectify the listless economy after years of deflation, made worse by a soaring currency that has squeezed exporters. He offered to boost spending on infrastructure at a time when much of the tsunami-wrecked northeast remains a shell of its former self.

The US congratulated Mr Abe, with President Barack Obama saying he looked forward to ” working closely” with the new government. “I congratulate Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on his party’s success in the elections in Japan today,” Obama said in a statement. “The U.S.-Japan Alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and I look forward to working closely with the next government and the people of Japan on a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues.”

Parliament is expected to formally endorse Abe as prime minister on 26 December.

Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News, Japan Today

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