The leader of Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, has said that the road ahead for the country will be difficult, as he tries to revive a sputtering economy and bolster national security amid deteriorating relations with China.
Shinzo Abe was speaking on Monday after his party won 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament in a nationwide election, according to unofficial results.
The LDP led Japan through most of the post-World War II era, but was voted out in 2009 following an economic slowdown.
With the elections over, a vote among the members of parliament to install the new prime minister is expected as soon as December 25. Abe, who was prime minister from 2006-2007, is almost certain of winning that vote because the LDP now holds the majority in the lower house.
"We won more seats than even we expected," Abe, 58, said on Monday. "We have a very heavy responsibility."
Yoshihiko Noda, the outgoing prime minister, announced his resignation late on Sunday. He said the election results had been "severe", but he acknowledged that his party had failed to live up to the expectations of the nation.
His Democratic Party of Japan reportedly won only 57 seats. Among its casualties were eight Cabinet ministers - the most to have lost in an election for more than six decades.
Economic issues, including plans to raise taxes and other measures to bolster Japan's underperforming economy, were the top concerns among voters.
Abe, who would be Japan's seventh prime minister in six-and-a-half years, will likely push for increased public works spending and lobby for stronger moves by the central bank to break Japan out of its deflationary trap.
Stock prices soared on Monday morning to their highest level in more than eight months, reflecting hopes in the business world that the LDP will be more effective in its economic policies than the Democrats were.
Coalition government likely
Although the election was the first since the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, atomic energy was a side issue during the campaign.
Abe's party stressed national security, amid an ongoing dispute with China over a group of small, uninhabited islands that both countries claim territorial sovereignty over.
The LDP is likely to form a coalition government with its longtime ally, the New Komeito party, party officials said. Together, the two parties have a two-thirds majority, controlling 325 seats, making it easier to pass any new legislation.
A dizzying array of more than 12 parties, including several new ones, contested the polls. The most significant new force is the right-leaning, populist Japan Restoration Party, which won 54 seats, according to NHK.
The anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party - formed just three weeks ago - won nine seats, according to NHK. Party head Yukiko Kada said she was very disappointed to see the LDP, the original promoter of Japan's nuclear energy policy, come back to power.