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Japan's Abe poised to become prime minister


Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has conceded defeat after the opposition party won by a landslide. The leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Shinzo Abe, is now set to become the country's next premier.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) regained its strength on Sunday when Japanese voters overwhelmingly voted to hand back power to the party which had dominated the country's post-WWII political scene. Television broadcasters projected that LDP had won at least 291 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament.

LDP front-runner, Abe, looked likely to be voted in as Japan's next prime minister, the seventh in six years. He already served as premier from 2006 to 2007 until he resigned due to illness.

The New Komeito party, cast to become the LDP's coalition party, is set to win at least 29 seats. The projected totals would give the two parties a two-thirds majority in parliament, allowing them to over-rule the upper house, which otherwise has the power to block draft legislation.

Soon after the predictions showed a clear loss for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Prime Minister Noda announced his plans to step down.

"I will resign as the head of the Democratic Party of Japan because I take this result seriously," Prime Minister Noda told reporters. "I want to deeply apologize as I could not produce results."

Early projections showed the DPJ's hold on 230 seats in the lower house had dropped drastically to around 56 seats, only one-fifth of what it had won in 2009 when it crushed the LDP.

Campaigning on economic reforms

Abe's win signaled a rejection of DPJ policies, which voters had characterized as a failure in light of a sluggish economy and weak responses to last year's earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster.

The LDP leader campaigned on a platform of economic reforms meant to revitalize a troubled economy, particularly through injecting money into public works. He has also said that he supported a pro-atomic energy policy, despite increased concerns among the Japanese public about the safety of nuclear energy, following last year's Fukushima disaster.

Abe pledged to improve ties with Japanís already close ally, the United States, and take a tougher line in a row with China over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

The DPJ wrested power away from the LDP in the 2009 general election when it took 308 of the 480 seats. The support rate for the DPJ fell sharply in the fall, down 6.1 percentage points in October to an approval rating of 17.3 percent.

kms/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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