Japan’s main opposition party has chosen former premier Shinzo Abe as its new leader, a victory likely to see him reinstated as prime minister in general elections expected this year.
The conservative, who was Japan’s youngest ever prime minister during his year-long stint, comfortably beat his rival in a run-off on Wednesday for the job of president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
In a speech after his victory, Abe, 58, pledged to work with legislators and get the LDP back into government, three years after it lost power.
“Not only for ourselves, not only for the LDP but for the purpose of building a strong Japan, a prosperous Japan, and a Japan in which Japanese people will be able to feel happy about being Japanese,” he said.
Abe defeated Shigeru Ishiba, a former defence minister, in the contest after none of the five candidates gained a majority in the first round of voting.
The once-ineluctable LDP fell from grace in 2009 after more than half-a-century of almost unbroken rule, displaced by party malcontents who split off to form the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Fresh polls expected
Abe, who pledged to recapture the Japanese government, is expected to keep pressuring the DPJ to dissolve the powerful lower house and call a general election.
The DPJ won a landslide victory in the 2009 general election, ending more than a half-century of almost unbroken rule by the LDP.
But Yoshihiko Noda, current prime minister, has largely disappointed, and looks set for a drubbing in national polls, which must be held within a year but could come any time.
Despite the LDP not being desperately popular either, the party appears set to be the main beneficiary, and is expected to have the largest presence when the dust settles, thrusting Abe into the limelight as the man who must forge a coalition.
Abe served as a premier for a year from September 2006, abruptly quitting in September 2007, citing an illness in the wake of a huge election defeat.
But in advance of the presidential polls, he told Japanese media his illness had improved dramatically thanks to a new pharmaceutical drug.
His victory could have far-reaching implications, not least on Japan’s increasingly prickly relationship with its neighbours amid escalating territorial disputes.
Foreign policy stand
On foreign policy, Abe has stressed the importance of a closer military alliance with the US.
In a speech on Tuesday, he spoke of the need to stand up to China.
But, say some commentators, he may not prove such a thorn in China’s side as he may have thus far appeared.
Before becoming prime minister in 2006, Abe pledged he would visit Yasukuni Shrine, the believed repository of the souls of 2.5 million war dead, including a number of class A war criminals.
However, in contrast to his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, he stayed away from a place that represents a running sore in Japan’s relations with its neighbours.
Abe, however, caused an international outcry while in office with his dismissive remarks about Japan’s wartime practice of subjecting people in conquered countries to sexual slavery.