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Japan set to elect fifth new prime minister in five years

Shinzo Abe, who was already prime minister for a year in 2006, will return to power in a landslide victory.

Shinzo Abe will be Japan's next prime minister, after winning a massive majority in parliamentary elections.
Shinzo Abe will be Japan's next prime minister, after winning a massive majority in parliamentary elections.
Image: Itsuo Inouye/AP

VOTERS IN JAPAN have given the country’s Liberal Democratic Party a landslide in parliamentary elections – and are set to have their fifth prime minister in five years.

Shinzo Abe, who was previously prime minister between 2006 and 2007, is set to be appointed to the country’s top political office with what broadcasters described as “a convincing majority”.

Exit polls by national broadcaster NHK said the Liberal Democrats (LDP) were likely to win between 275 to 310 seats in the House of Representatives, which has a total of 480 seats.

A smaller party, the New Komeito party with whom the LDP is allide, is set to win about 30 seats.

The Democratic Party of Japan, led by incumbent premier Yoshihiko Noda, is likely to win only between 27 and 35 seats under the same forecasts.

The Liberal-New Komeito coalition would have a two-thirds majority – a strong enough lobby to override objections from the upper house, where no party has overall control – and complete an ambitious programme of economic reforms.

“The LDP sweeps to victory; Abe administration to start,” the online edition of the Nikkei newspaper said in a banner headline.

Pledges to kick-start economy

Abe, whose brief stint as premier ended ignominiously, campaigned on pledges to right Japan’s listing economy, which has suffered years of deflation, made worse by a soaring currency that has squeezed exporters.

“It’s time to put an end to the confusion and doldrums of three years and three months,” Abe said Saturday, referring to Noda’s stint in power.

He has also pledged to raise spending on infrastructure projects, at a time when large parts of the tsunami-ravaged north-east have yet to see significant rebuilding following the March 2011 disaster.

The collapse of an ageing highway tunnel that claimed nine lives earlier this month lent weight to his calls, which have been criticised by opponents as a return to the LDP’s “construction state” of the last century.

The LDP had previously been known as one of the world’s most successful and dominant political parties; the party won every general election between 1958 and 2009, and had been in government for all of that time.

The Democratic Party had held power since then but suffered relative instability, embodied by the resignation of Naoto Kan in September 2011 over the fallout from the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile, Tokyo’s former governor Shintaro Ishihara, whose bid to buy disputed islands provoked a fierce diplomatic showdown with China, is also headed to parliament.

Ishihara, who leads the populist Japan Restoration Party, appeared to have secured one of 180 seats up for grabs in the election.

Read: 9 insane products you can buy in Japan’s discount shops

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Gavan Reilly

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