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Monday, Dec. 17, 2012
LDP flattens DPJ in bruising return to power
Abe set to take prime minister's office for second time since 2007
The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito alliance won 325 seats in the Lower House — a supermajority that would allow it to override Upper House vetoes — as it reclaims power after three years in the opposition.
The LDP victory ends the government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan and sets the stage for LDP chief Shinzo Abe, a conservative hawk who is keen to revise the war-renouncing Constitution, to pick up where he left off when he resigned five years ago.
Abe will be the second man to be prime minister twice since World War II, after Shigeru Yoshida, and Japan's seventh leader in six years.
The DPJ, meanwhile, suffered a crushing defeat that reduced its seat count to 57 compared with 230 before the election.
A record seven Cabinet ministers, including education minister Makiko Tanaka and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, lost their single-seat constituencies. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan also lost his seat in Tokyo's No. 18 district.
Of the numerous "third-force" parties, Nippon Ishin no To (Japan Restoration Party), headed by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, raised its 11 seats before the election to 54.
As the DPJ's dismal results trickled in, Noda said he intended to step down as party leader.
"I bear the biggest responsibility for the severe defeat," he said. "I will resign as the party president."
Noda said it is "most deplorable" that the party lost so many members in the Lower House.
"Today's victory is due to the confusion that the DPJ created," Abe said. "I can say that our policies gained support, but I can't say that we've recovered our trust."
Commenting on his abrupt resignation five years ago, Abe said: "I was nervous and under pressure. I achieved some results, but I could not continue more than one year. This time, I will create a steady government."
The LDP, which had ruled the country until 2009 almost continuously since its establishment in 1955, was headed for a landslide in the 480-seat Lower House as the final votes were being counted. The lower chamber constitutes 300 single-seat constituencies and 180 proportional representation seats.
The DPJ had 233 seats and the LDP 118 when Noda, 55, dissolved the chamber on Nov. 16.
Twelve political parties fielded a combined 1,504 candidates, after a series of small parties emerged and scrambled for position in recent months.
The DPJ received a stinging rebuke by the electorate after three years and three months of confused rule that's left the economy in yet another recession.
This marked a reversal of fortune from the August 2009 Lower House election, when the party rode a wave of public discontent with short-term LDP administrations and ended its grip on power.
The fledgling parties tried to offer a competitive "third-force" alternative to the DPJ and LDP by appealing to voters weary of the political status quo. But surveys suggested the parties faced voters critical of what they saw as mergers of convenience ahead of the election.
Nippon Ishin was the strongest of the third-force parties.
Voter turnout was 59.52 percent as of 11 p.m., according to a Kyodo News estimate.
The 2009 election logged record turnouts of 69.28 percent for the single-seat districts and 69.27 percent for the proportional representation segment, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.
All 480 winners were expected to be determined by early Monday after voting stations closed at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Early voting was down 13.91 percent from the 2009 election to 12,039,572 for single-seat district, according to a report from the internal affairs ministry covering the 11-day period from Dec. 5.
Nuclear energy was a major issue in the first national election since the Fukushima nuclear crisis broke out in March 2011.
A majority of parties were looking to phase out nuclear energy, although the time frame differed from party to party. The DPJ was seeking a nominal phaseout by the 2030s, compared with the conservative approach taken by the LDP, which oversaw and promoted the rise of the industry and the sector's incestuous regulatory regime, which was just replaced.
Parties also sparred over the scheduled two-stage doubling of the consumption tax to 10 percent by October 2015 to finance bulging social security costs. Another key issue was whether Japan should participate in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
The pro-TPP Noda got the LDP and its Buddhist-backed ally New Komeito to pass a bill to double the sales tax. The LDP opposes ending all tariffs under the TPP.
Some parties called for additional monetary steps by the independent Bank of Japan. This was unusual in a general election. The LDP's Abe even wanted to strip the BOJ of its independence to force it to buy unlimited amounts of construction bonds to finance public works.
The 1,504 candidates who ran marked a record high under the current election system.
Before the election, the DPJ had 230 seats after losing its majority to defections caused by internal conflict. The LDP had 118.
Still, the LDP is set to face a divided Diet because it and New Komeito do not have a combined majority in the House of Councilors. Political gridlock is thus likely to continue at least until the triennial Upper House election next summer.
Along with the Lower House election, the appointments of 10 Supreme Court judges are up for review. Voters are being asked to indicate any judges they disapprove of. A judge is dismissed if a majority of voters call for it.
Inflation target on way
The next governor of the Bank of Japan will be expected to agree with the government on introducing an inflation target, Shinzo Abe said Sunday after it became certain he will be prime minister.
"I want people who approve of inflation-targeting to assume the (BOJ) governor and deputy governor posts," Abe told a radio program. The tenure of current BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa will expire in April.
Stressing his resolve to beat chronic deflation, Abe has said he wants the central bank to pursue an annual inflation target of 2 percent, double the BOJ's current price stability goal of 1 percent.