TOKYO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Japan's hawkish ex-premier Shinzo
Abe will get a second chance to run the country after his
conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged to power in
Sunday's election, but must swiftly move to bolster the sagging
economy while managing strained ties with China.
Abe, whose party won by a landslide just three years after a
crushing defeat, was expected on Monday to meet Natsuo
Yamaguchi, the leader of the small New Komeito party, to cement
their alliance and confirm economic steps to boost an economy
now in its fourth recession since 2000.
The victory by the LDP, which had ruled Japan for most of
the past 50 years before it was ousted in 2009, will usher in a
government pledged to a tough stance in a territorial row with
China, a pro-nuclear energy policy despite the 2011 Fukushima
disaster and a potentially risky recipe for hyper-easy monetary
policy and big fiscal spending to boost growth.
Projections by TV broadcasters showed that the LDP had won
at least 291 seats in the 480-member lower house, while the New
Komeito party took at least 29 seats.
That gives the two parties the two-thirds majority needed to
overrule parliament's upper house in most matters, where they
lack a majority and which can block bills. The "super majority"
could help to break a policy deadlock that has plagued the
world's third biggest economy since 2007.
Markets have already pushed the yen lower and share prices
higher in anticipation of an LDP victory and Abe's economic
stimulus. The two-thirds "super majority" could boost share
prices and weaken the yen further.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan
(DPJ) was crushed, forecast to win just about 56 seats - less
than a fifth of its showing in 2009, when it swept to power
promising to pay more heed to consumers than companies and pry
control of policies from bureaucrats.
But voters deemed the pledges honoured mostly in the breach
and the party was hit by defections before the vote due to
Noda's unpopular plan to raise the sales tax to curb public debt
already more than twice the size of the economy.
"This was an overwhelming rejection of the DPJ," said Gerry
Curtis, a professor at New York's Columbia University.
"Abe was smart to run the campaign saying 'It's the economy,
stupid. His hawkish (security) views took second place to fiscal
stimulus and getting a dovish Bank of Japan governor and getting
the economy going. If he keeps that focus ... he has a chance of
improving his standing."
Analyst Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation think tank
in Washington said the return of Abe and LDP was foremost a
rejection of the DPJ, but "also reflects an embrace of
conservative views" after recent years of strained relations
with Japan's close neighbors.
"Chinese assertiveness and North Korean provocations nudged
the public from its usual post-war complacency toward a new
desire to stand up for Japanese sovereignty," he said.
The Japanese favor moving toward "a more normal nation
status" and are not embracing resurgent militarism, added
Klingner, a former CIA analyst.
Abe, expected to be voted in by parliament on Dec. 26, will
also have to prove he has learned from the mistakes of his first
administration, plagued by scandals and charges of incompetence.
Voter distaste for both major parties has spawned a clutch
of new parties including the Japan Restoration Party, founded by
popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, which took at least 52
seats, according to media projections.
But media estimates showed turnout at around 59 percent,
which could match the previous post-war low.
LDP leader Abe, 58, who quit as premier in 2007 citing ill
health, 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 will
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.
President Barack Obama congratulated Abe and underlined U.S.
interest in working with the longstanding American ally.
"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," he
said in a statement.
The LDP, which promoted atomic energy during its
decades-long reign, is expected to be friendly to nuclear
utilities, although deep public concerns remain over safety.
Abe has called for "unlimited" monetary easing and big
spending on public works to rescue the economy. 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 to Japan's ageing society, and risks
triggering a market backlash if investors decide Japan has lost
control of its finances.