The conservative Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, unceremoniously dumped by voters 3 years ago after more than 50 years in power, made a surprising comeback in elections held yesterday.
Exit polls by major Japanese broadcasters gave the Liberal Democratic Party 296 seats in Japan's 480-seat lower house, while its ally, the New Komeito Party, was projected to win 32. That would give them the two-thirds majority needed to overrule the upper house, perhaps breaking the deadlocks that have long stymied Japanese governments.
The Liberal Democrats held a near-monopoly on power in Japan from 1955 to 2009, when they were booted out by the Democratic Party of Japan, now headed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. But voters were disappointed with their handling of the economy and last year's tsunami, and are expected to hand them only about 70 seats.
Also expected to make gains are a crop of new small parties, pushing a nationalist agenda. The strongest of them is the Japan Restoration Party headed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and controversial former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. It was Ishihara who set in motion the current standoff with China with an ill-advised plan to buy and nationalize a contested island chain called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.
Abe, 58, also supports loosening Japan's pacifist post-World War II constitution to allow a more active role for the military. Born to an illustrious political family, Abe was Japan's youngest postwar prime minister, but he resigned just a year later because of health problems and a string of scandals.
As China becomes more beligerent, Japan looks anxiously for a leader who will be strong as well as wise. With its martial history, Japan was never going to remain a "pacifist" country for long. Abe will meet a lot of resistance if he tries to change the constitution, but there appears to be a consensus rising that Japan can no longer rely on the US to protect it from China and must look more to its own defense.
The LDP bears little resemblance to American conservatives, except perhaps in its advocacy of a strong defense and forward looking foreign policy. A more assertive Japan will be welcome in the Far East now that China appears to be flexing its muscles militarily.