Editorial: A not-so-new dawn in Japan

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The Independent Online

When Japan's Liberal Democratic Party suffered its first election defeat in more than 50 years, it was widely heralded as the end of an era. Just three years later, however, the LDP has made a spectacular comeback, more than doubling its seats in the lower house of the Diet and catapulting Shinzo Abe – the former Prime Minister who lasted just a single, shambolic year in office – back into the top job.

What, then, will Mr Abe do with a super-majority (thanks to his coalition partners) that can override the upper house still dominated by the outgoing Democratic Party of Japan?

It is the Prime Minister-in-waiting's foreign policy that is drawing the most immediate attention. The renownedly hawkish Mr Abe wants to hike defence spending and revise Japan's pacifist constitution so it can establish itself as a military power in the region. Such a stance is popular in Washington, which would welcome the emergence of a friendly local counterweight to China. But there are real risks here. The patriotism that Mr Abe is keen to nurture can easily develop into a dangerous nationalism, and any escalation of the dispute over, say, the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands will hardly add to stability in the region.

For all the rhetoric, the new government's top priority will be closer to home, where the economy is perennially deflating and now back in recession for the fourth time since 2000. Mr Abe's solution is a combination of radical monetary easing combined with a surge of spending on public works. In comparison with his predecessor's plan to raise consumption taxes, it is easy to see why "Abenomics" is popular. Given that Japan has the highest public debts in the industrialised world, though, it will need to work fast if it is to be affordable.

Nor – with elections to the upper house in July – is there long to convince voters that the LDP is delivering on its promises. Mr Abe's landslide may have redrawn Japan's political landscape, but it is as much a verdict on the outgoing government as an endorsement of his own.