Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has won a landslide victory in the election for parliament's lower house, according to TV exit polls, returning to power after a three-year-hiatus with ex-prime minister Shinzo Abe at the helm.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Sunday conceded defeat in the general election and said he was stepping down as
leader from his humbled governing party.
"I will resign as the head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DJP) because I take this result seriously," he told a press conference. "I want to deeply apologise as I could not produce results."
Noda was speaking after NHK television, citing forecasts based on both official results and its own exit polls, said the LDP had won at least 255 seats with 95 seats undecided, against 39 seats for the DPJ.
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The LDP is expected to easily secure a majority of the 480-seat chamber with New Komeito, its junior coalition partner, which is expected to win at least 25 seats, NHK said.
Asked why the DPJ suffered such loss of support, Noda said: "We were unable to live up to people's expectations when we came into government (in 2009)."
The LDP win will usher in a government committed to a tough stance in a territorial row with China, a pro-nuclear power energy policy despite last year's Fukushima disaster, and a radical recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy and big fiscal spending to end persistent deflation and tame a strong yen.
The victory will give the 58-year-old Abe, who quit the top job in 2007 citing ill health after a troubled year in office, a second shot at running the world's third-biggest economy.
Abe, whose brief period as prime minister in 2006-7 ended ignominiously, has pledged to right Japan's listless economy, which has suffered years of deflation, made worse by a soaring currency that has put pressure on exporters.
Abe has pledged to boost spending on infrastructure projects at a time when large parts of the tsunami-ravaged northeast have yet to see significant rebuilding following the March 2011 catastrophe.
In an interview shortly before the polls closed, Tina Burnett, of Temple University in Tokyo, told Al Jazeera that the Japan's electorate is underwhelmed by the election.
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Burnett said that the governing party left the electorate "feeling disappointed" because of its record of "broken promises" and poor handling of the Fukushima crisis following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Al Jazeera's Rob McBride, reporting from Tokyo, said public unease about a deteriorating security environment - North Korea launched a rocket over Japan's southern islands last week and China sent a plane into Japanese airspace - has bolstered Abe's cause.
"Japanese people feel that they have really lost out in the head-to-heads that they have had with the Chinese authorities over the sovereignty of islands in South China Sea," our correspondent said.
The DPJ disappointed electors who handed it a large majority in 2009 polls. Policy missteps, diplomatic gaffes and factional infighting led to the resignations of three prime ministers in as many years and squander its electoral hand.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies