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Ex-PM Abe Elected as Head of Japan's Opposition LDP

Newly elected Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President Shinzo Abe at the party headquarters in Tokyo, September 26, 2012.
Newly elected Japan's main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) President Shinzo Abe at the party headquarters in Tokyo, September 26, 2012.
Japan's tough-talking former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is calling for a stronger stance against China, has been elected as president of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe, who defeated ex-defense chief Shigeru Ishiba in a run-off election Wednesday, could get another chance to lead Japan, if the LDP wins next election as polls suggest.

The conservative leader has taken a hawkish stance against China, as well as South Korea, which are both locked in territorial disputes with Tokyo.

The 58-year-old abruptly stepped down as prime minister in 2007 citing a stomach illness, in the wake of a significant election defeat.

Former foreign ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says that Abe appears healthy and aims to accomplish many of his original goals, including revising the post-World War II pacifist constitution.

"The first term for Shinzo Abe has been and is going to be remembered as a 'halfway house,' because he wanted to do a lot of things at once, and then failed to do them due to his illness," he said. "He has proven to some degree that he is in better shape than before, and the ultimate test will be whether he could bring Japan to the point that he wants it to reach, namely to revise the constitution."

Opinion polls suggest that Abe's LDP, which governed Japan for most of the post-World War Two era, would have the edge in a general election, but would also need a coalition partner.

A general election must be held within a year. But Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who last week won election as head of the DPJ, has so far only said that it will take place "in the near term."

The election of Abe would be likely to alarm Beijing, which is mired in a major diplomatic crisis with Tokyo about a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

LDP officials have called on Japan to build on the islands, which are also claimed by China. Tokyo purchased the islands from their private Japanese owner earlier this month, angering Beijing.

But Taniguchi says the election will probably not change the course of China-Japan relations, which he says seem to be "headed for more turbulence."

Whoever wins the elections will also face deep-rooted problems in Japan's stagnant economy, which has been riddled by a massive public debt, rapidly aging population and recovery from last year's massive earthquake and tsunami.
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