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Tokyo (UPI) Dec 18, 2012
Japan's new prime minister -- for the second time -- could try to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the country's Constitution.
The alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito Party won a majority 325 seats in the 480-seat lower House that will see LDP chief Shinzo Abe become prime minister five years after resigning from office.
The LDP had ruled the country almost continuously from the party's establishment in 1955 to 2009 when it was ousted from power in the lower House of Representatives by the center-left Democratic Party of Japan.
This week the LDP flattened the DPJ led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, reducing it to 57 seats, down from 230 before the election, a report by The Japan Times newspaper said.
Abe, who will be the second man to be prime minister twice since the World War II, is a conservative hawk who will lead a government strong enough to override vetoes in the upper house, the House of Councilors.
The DPJ defeat saw seven Cabinet ministers, including Education Minister Makiko Tanaka and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, lose their seats. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan also lost his seat in Tokyo.
Noda said it is "most deplorable" that so many DPJ members lost their seats.
"I bear the biggest responsibility for the severe defeat," Noda said. "I will resign as the party president."
Abe said he was satisfied with the public's support but believed more needs to be done.
"I can say that our policies gained support but I can't say that we've recovered our trust," he said.
His resignation in September 2007 was greeted with dismay by Japanese media and analysts, a report by the BBC said at the time.
There was speculation that a deal was done between senior LDP members and leaders in opposition parties, the BBC report said.
Japan's government needed to get Parliament to give permission for the country's military to continue to provide logistical support to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Abe's resignation could have been what sealed support from opposition parties, the BBC said.
The Japan Times report quoted Abe as saying, after his latest election victory, "I was nervous and under pressure (when I was prime minister). I achieved some results, but I could not continue more than one year. This time, I will create a steady government."
A report by the Kyodo News Agency said around 76 percent of the 454 winners in Sunday's general election "seek the revision of the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's pacifist Constitution."
Approval by those 343 in the House of Representatives would meet the requirement of a vote by at least two-thirds of the members of the 480-seat chamber to initiate amendments to the Constitution.
But a constitution-changing motion will need support by a similar portion of members of the upper house, Kyodo said.
Hawk's return in Japan heartens US
Abe is a champion of revising the post-World War II pacifist constitution and may take shorter-term steps such as boosting defense spending and allowing greater military cooperation with the United States, Japan's treaty-bound ally.
His Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled almost continuously from 1955 until 2009, roared back Sunday with a crushing victory over the Democratic Party of Japan, which Abe accused of harming relations with the United States.
Abe is due to take over as prime minister on December 26.
President Barack Obama's relations with DPJ-led Japanese governments have substantially improved after early friction. But Abe is seen as more supportive of US force deployments and has vowed no compromise with China in a worsening row over disputed islands.
Michael Green, the senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Abe's victory was a "net positive" for the United States and could in fact stabilize Japan-China ties.
"The view in Beijing is that their pressure tactics are working on Japan and I think it's important to disabuse them of that," Green said.
But Green, who served as the top Asia adviser to former president George W. Bush, feared that a new team in the second Obama administration could follow a "simplistic media picture" of a more hawkish Japan and potentially isolate Abe.
"If the administration decides it has to somehow counter Japan's shift to the right by brokering between Japan and China, it would not go well either in relations with Japan or China," he said.
But Green said that US priorities in Asia -- particularly the relationship between allies Japan and South Korea -- could face setbacks if Abe pursues a hard line over emotive history issues.
Abe, whose grandfather was arrested but not indicted as a World War II war criminal, has called in the past for rescinding Japan's apology to wartime sex slaves, known euphemistically as "comfort women."
But Abe, during his previous 2006-2007 premiership, worked to repair ties with China and South Korea and avoided politically charged visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including war criminals.
"There is a concern for US policymakers that his revisionist inclinations will spark new tensions in the region, but his statements of late have at least tried to temper those anxieties," said Weston Konishi, director of Asia-Pacific studies at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis.
"I think the hope is that he'll take a very responsible approach," he said.
Abe will likely face domestic pressure not to antagonize neighbors. Japanese business leaders have been alarmed by tensions and Abe governs in a coalition with New Komeito, a Buddhist party with pacifist views.
Konishi said there were "probably some circles in town that welcome" the return of familiar faces in the Liberal Democratic Party, but added that the Obama administration had developed a strong relationship with the Democrats.
Obama and Abe spoke on Monday, reaffirming "the importance of the US-Japan alliance as the cornerstone of peace and security in the region," the White House said.
James Schoff, a former Pentagon official who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that Abe's effort on defense could be "a net benefit for everyone" if Japan complements the United States.
"But if the focus is more toward building up offensive capabilities vis-a-vis China, that's going to create probably more problems than it's worth from a US perspective," he said.
Yukio Hatoyama, the first prime minister following the DPJ's landmark 2009 win, resigned after clashing with the United States over the status of a controversial military base in Okinawa.
Relations improved after the round-the-clock US response to last year's tsunami and the Obama administration enjoyed strong ties with outgoing prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, who supported joining talks on a US-backed trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Liberal Democrats have been divided on the emerging deal. The party relies on support from farmers, many of whom adamantly oppose foreign competition.
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