Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Election Win by Ruling Party Signals Change in Japan

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Election Win by Ruling Party Signals Change in Japan

Article excerpt

TOKYO -- Japanese voters handed a landslide victory to the governing Liberal Democratic Party in parliamentary elections Sunday, opening the possibility of dramatic changes in the long paralyzed country, even as it returned Japan to effective one-party rule that seemed to thwart recent hopes for a more competitive democracy.

By securing control of both houses of parliament for up to three years, the win offers Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- an outspoken nationalist who promises to revitalize Japan's long stagnant economy and strengthen its military -- the chance to be the most transformative leader in a decade. It also offered an opportunity to end the nation's series of short-lived and ineffective prime ministers.

The victory comes at a time when many Japanese seem more open than ever to change, after years of failed efforts to end the economic slump, and as an intensifying territorial challenge by China that has nudged this long pacifist nation toward seeking a more robust military.

And unlike some of Japan's previous colorless leaders, Mr. Abe, 58, seems eager to become just such an agent of change. He campaigned on promises to make fundamental, and possibly painful, changes in the economy. But his vows to stand up to China and rewrite Japan's anti-war Constitution to allow the legal right to maintain a full-fledged military, rather than self-defense forces, are raising fears he will go too far and further isolate Japan in the region.

A week before the election, he became the first prime minister to visit a tropical island near the group of uninhabited islets at the heart of the dispute with China, and had earlier raised eyebrows by riding in a tank and climbing into a fighter jet in front of cameras.

"Mr. Abe has a pragmatic side and a strongly nationalistic side," said Hiroshi Shiratori, a professor of political science at Hosei University in Tokyo. …

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