The election also reinstates a familiar face, with nationalist Shinzo Abe — party president of the LDP — becoming prime minister for the second time, after a turbulent 366-day stint in 2006 and 2007. Abe replaces Yoshihiko Noda, marking Japan’s 14th leadership change in two decades. The turnover rate reflects the many protracted political battles, and few easy policymaking solutions, in an aging nation with a shrinking workforce and the industrialized world’s highest debt burden.
The LDP will be able to overcome some of that gridlock because its coalition partner, New Komeito, won 31 seats. That gives the coalition a 320-
seat veto-proof “supermajority,” meaning its lawmakers can pass bills even without the support of the DPJ-led upper house.
Late Sunday, as it became clear that his party had taken a drubbing, Noda stepped down as head of the DPJ to take responsibility for the “tough” result.
When it last ruled, the LDP was a centrist party, famous for support from rural areas and pork-barrel spending on construction projects. But Abe has helped steer his party farther to the right, vowing on the campaign trail to “take back Japan.” Political analysts say his second premiership will reveal how his priorities to boost military spending and revise the pacifist constitution jibe with those of the public.
Abe has also said that he wants to place government officials on the uninhabited islands claimed by China — a move that would infuriate Beijing and potentially force a treaty-bound Washington to take sides with Tokyo in a small-scale armed conflict.
Abe said Sunday night that he wanted to visit Washington in his first overseas trip to boost bilateral ties.
Although the LDP’s victory Sunday suggests a landslide, the party has far from a mandate, with a support rate in the 20s. In one voting district after the next, its representatives won races without gaining a majority, benefiting from a fractured field contested among at least 12 political parties. Abe, according to polls, is not much more popular than he was when he resigned in 2007 because of a bowel illness.
The landslide result does “not mean [the LDP] has won the people’s overwhelming support,” independent political analyst Eiken Itagaki said. “With this in mind, the LDP executives are being careful not to get arrogant.”