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OLD GUARD

The Japanese voters have now rejected the idea of change that they embraced three years ago. They have once again reposed their faith in the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled the country for nearly 50 years before its seemingly unchallenged reign was overthrown by the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009. The verdict this time, however, reflects a huge disappointment with the DPJ rather than high hopes from the LDP. Given the steady decline of its economic power, these are not exactly great times of hope for the island nation. Three years ago, Japan lost its position as the second largest economy in the world to China. Worse, its economy has been stuck in a slump for almost two decades. Little wonder that the LDP made an economic stimulus package one of the main planks of its election campaign this time. The LDP’s massive victory will give Japan the political stability that was missing under the brief reign of the DPJ. But it is the hope of an economic revival that has returned the LDP to power. Shinzo Abe, who begins his new term as prime minister, knows how difficult the task could prove to be.

Mr Abe’s other big challenge is to rebuild bridges with China. He returns to the prime minister’s job at a time when Japan’s relations with its powerful neighbour are at a new low. The territorial dispute between the two countries over some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea is only a footnote to the larger story of deteriorating bilateral relations. Mr Abe is known to be a ‘hawk’ in his views on Japan’s China policy. The LDP victory is also largely due to the popular sentiment that the country’s national pride has been hurt by its economic woes and by the loss of its regional influence. This is contrasted with China’s growing economic and strategic power. A realistic plan for an economic recovery, rather than jingoistic posturings, could be Mr Abe’s only trump card.