By Yuriko Nagano and Barbara Demick
9:21 AM PST, December 16, 2012
TOKYO -- The conservative party that dominated post-war Japan is back in power after a three-year absence, in a landslide election victory Sunday that will result in hawkish Shinzo Abe returning as prime minister.
Abe, 58, who served in the post once before, is likely to pursue a tougher stance toward China and prevent the nation from abandoning nuclear energy.
The conservative Liberal Democratic Party was projected by NHK Television to win 291 out of 480 seats in Japan’s lower house, while its ally, the New Komeito Party, had 30. That would give them the two-third majority needed to overrule the upper house, perhaps breaking deadlocks that have long stymied Japanese governments.
The Liberal Democrats held a near monopoly on power in Japan from 1955 to 2009, when they were beaten by the Democratic Party of Japan. This time around, the Democratic Party was projected to win only 56 seats. Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda resigned as head of the party Sunday night, hours after the polls closed, conceding the election results were a “disappointment.”
The remarkable comeback of the conservative establishment reflects the high level of national anxiety about economic stagnation and falling behind China.
“They're more experienced and are a better fit at leading,” said Takashi Yamada, 38, an office worker in Tokyo, explaining why he voted for the Liberal Democrats. Last time around he opted for a third party opposing nuclear power.
The Liberal Democrats’ return could exacerbate tensions over contested islands that have become a lightning rod for nationalist outbursts in Asia. Abe supports revisions in Japan’s post-World War II constitution to loosen limits on the military and has promised a strong defense of Japanese sovereignty.
“A good Japan-China relationship is in the national interest for both countries. Both sides need to recognize that. I think there is a problem that China lacks that understanding,’’ Abe told Japanese television after the polls closed.
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