Pegged to win election ... Liberal Democratic Party leader, Shinzo Abe. Photo: Getty Images
THREE years after it was kicked out of office in an election that was supposed to herald a new direction for the country, Japan's biggest conservative party is on the cusp of a return to power.
The Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed for much of the postwar era, is expected to win Sunday's election comfortably, led by a man whose first term as prime minister ended five years ago.
The likely winner, Shinzo Abe, has been helped by widespread dissatisfaction with the present Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, whose Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide in 2009 by promising to take power out of the hands of bureaucrats, divert money from wasteful public works to families and welfare, and pursue a more independent foreign policy after decades of dependence on the US.
Anger at the DPJ's failure to deliver has been matched by a swing to the right that has benefited Mr Abe, one of the Japan's most vocal conservatives. The country's hawks have been given ample ammunition with which to attack Mr Noda, the third DPJ leader in as many years.
Mr Abe dismissed as weak Mr Noda's response to Chinese provocations over the Senkaku dispute, which took a troubling turn on Thursday after a Chinese plane flew over the islands, known as the Diaoyu in China. North Korea's rocket launch last week would have only boosted Mr Abe's credentials as a hardliner.
Opinion polls suggested he would pull off what had seemed impossible only weeks ago: gaining enough lower house seats with its traditional ally, the New Komeito Party, to overrule the upper house, a regular source of instability for the past five years.
Mr Abe's failure to win a clear majority would trigger a search for a second coalition partner among minor parties. The candidates included the Japan Restoration Party, a new far-right group led by the outspoken former governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara.
Some polls had put the Restoration Party in second place ahead of the DPJ but, even if Mr Ishihara's party failed to win enough seats to force coalition talks, its rapid rise was evidence of Japan's rightward shift.
Guardian News & Media