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Japan's LDP Back in Power With Two-Thirds Majority With Ally

Shinzo Abe, incoming Prime Minister of Japan.
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images
Shinzo Abe, incoming Prime Minister of Japan.

Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged back to power in an election on Sunday just three years after a devastating defeat, giving ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a chance to push his hawkish security agenda and radical economic recipe.

Exit polls by television broadcasters showed the LDP winning nearly 300 seats in parliament's powerful 480-member lower house, while its ally, the small New Komeito party,looked set to win about 30 seats.

That would give the two parties the two-thirds majority needed to over-rule parliament's upper house, where no party has a majority and which can block bills, which should help to break a deadlock that has plagued the world's third biggest economy since 2007.

An LDP win willusher in a government committed to a tough stance in aterritorial row withChina, a pro-nuclear energy policy despite last year's Fukushima disaster and apotentially risky prescription for hyper-easy monetary policy and big fiscalspending to beat deflation and tame a strong yen.

Senior executivesof the LDP and the New Komeito party met earlier to confirm they would form acoalition if they get a combined majority, Kyodo news agency reported.

"There's no doubt the LDP will team up with the New Komeito in the new government,"LDP senior executive Yoshihide Suga told public broadcaster NHK.

As for cooperation with other parties, he said: "It depends on each policy so we'd like to consider carefully and humbly."

Voters had expressed disappointment with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which swept to power in 2009 promising to pay more heed to consumers than companies and reduce bureaucrats' control of policymaking

Exit polls showed the DPJ, which was hit by defections ahead of the vote, winning only 65 seats,just over a fifth of their tally in 2009. Party executive Kohei Otsuka told NHK Noda would likely have to quit over the defeat, in which several party heavyweights lost their seats.

Many voters had said the DPJ failed to meet its election pledges as it struggled to govern and cope with last year's huge earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, and then pushed through an unpopular sales tax increase with LDP help.

Voter distaste for both major parties has spawned a clutch of new parties including the right-leaning Japan Restoration Party founded by popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

Hashimoto's supporters in Osaka said the country needed strong leadership at a time when it sees its dominance in the region challenged by China and South Korea.

Exit polls showed Hashimoto's party picking up about 46 seats. That could make it a potential LDP partner if the New Komeito, which is more moderate on security issues than the LDP, decides later to change allies, some analysts said.

"If it is to do with economic policies, the Komeito will probably go along. But if it is more to do with right-wing policies, the Komeito may not agree," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. "The LDP might be tempted to shift to the Japan Restoration Party."

Talking Tough

LDP leader Abe, 58, who quit as premier in 2007 after a year in office, has been talking tough in a row with China over uninhabited isles in the East China Sea, although some experts say he may temper his hard line with pragmatism once in office.

The soft-spoken grandson of a prime minister, who would become Japan's seventh premier in six years, Abe also wants to loosen the limits of a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military, so Japan can play a bigger global security role.

China's official Xinhua news agency said in an editorial Japan's winning party should formulate its foreign policy with a long-term perspective to repair ties with neighbors.

The news agency said it was a "troubling sign" that some parties in the election had promised to take a tough stand on territorial disputes and increase military spending.

The LDP, which promoted atomic energy during its decades-long reign, is expected to be friendly to nuclear utilities, although deep public safety concerns remain a barrier to business-as-usual for the industry.

A mother of two voting in Tokyo said she could not support the LDP because of its stand on nuclear energy. "I have children and I have to think about their future," said the 43-year old woman who declined to give her name.

She said she was voting for the Tomorrow Party of Japan, which aims to shut nuclear reactors in 10 years, much earlier than the current government's goal of the 2030s.

High on the list of voter concerns is the economy, which is in its fourth recession since 2000 amid slowing global growth, a strong yen and the territorial row with China.

"A strong economic policy is what I expect from the LDP," said 40-year old Tetsuo Ueda, who runs a bar in Tokyo. He said his business has suffered in the past three years.

Abe has called for "unlimited" monetary easing and big spending on public works to rescue the economy. But such policies, a centrepiece of the LDP's platform for decades, have been criticised by many as wasteful pork-barrel politics.

Many economists say that prescription for "Abenomics" could create temporary growth and enable the government to go ahead with a planned initial sales tax rise in 2014 to help curb a public debt now twice the size of gross domestic product.

But it looks unlikely to cure deeper ills or bring sustainable growth, and risks triggering a market backlash if investors decide Japan has lost control of its finances.

Japan's economy has been stuck in the doldrums for decades, its population ageing fast and big corporate brands faltering, making "Japan Inc" a synonym for decline.

Consumer electronics firms such as Sony are struggling with competition from foreign rivals and burdened by a strong yen, which makes their products cost more overseas.

"I'm really worried about the economy. I hope the LDP will work on that first," said Masao Ibuki, a 90-year old pensioner who voted for the LDP in Tokyo.