Former premier Abe poised for a comeback as Japan goes to the polls

Shinzo Abe: 'Protect our territory'
Shinzo Abe: 'Protect our territory'
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JAPANESE candidates made final appeals yesterday ahead of an election expected to restore the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to power and give former premier Shinzo Abe a second shot at running the world’s third biggest economy.

An LDP win would usher in a government committed to a firm stance in a territorial row with China, a pro-nuclear 
energy policy despite last year’s Fukushima disaster and a radical prescription for big fiscal spending.

Polls suggest the LDP will win a large majority in parliament’s powerful 480-seat lower house, just three years after a crushing defeat that ended more than 50 years of almost non-stop rule by the business-friendly party, although many people were undecided just days before the vote.

Together with a small ally, Abe’s LDP could even gain the two-thirds majority needed to break through a policy deadlock that has plagued successive governments for half a decade.

“It really looks more like an avalanche than a landslide,” said Gerry Curtis, a professor at New York’s Columbia University and a Japan expert.

Abe, 58, who resigned as premier in 2007 after a troubled year in office, has been talking tough on a row with China over tiny islands in the East China Sea, although some experts hold out hope he will temper his hard line.

The grandson of another former prime minister, who looks set to become Japan’s seventh premier in six years, also wants to loosen the limits of a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military, so ­Japan can play a bigger global security role.

“We will firmly restore the US-Japan alliance and regain our diplomatic power,” Abe said in his final pitch to a crowd, many waving Japan’s national flag, in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. “And together with you all, we’ll protect our beautiful seas and territory, no matter what.”

The LDP, which promoted atomic energy during its decades-long reign, is expected to be friendlier to utilities seeking to restart nuclear reactors taken off-line after the Fukushima disaster, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami on 
11 March last year.

Abe has called for “unlimited” monetary easing and big spending on public works – long the centrepiece of the LDP’s policies and criticised by many as wasteful pork-barrel – to rescue the economy from its fourth recession since 2000.

Many economists say that prescription – dubbed “Abenomics” by media – could create temporary growth and enable the government to go ahead with a planned initial sales tax rise in 2014 to help curb a public debt now twice the size of gross domestic product. But it looks unlikely to cure deeper ills and risks triggering a market backlash if investors decide Japan has lost control of its finances.

“We must move forward. We cannot go back to the ‘lost 20 years’,” prime minister Yoshihiko Noda said. His Democratic Party of Japan swept to 
power in 2009.