Shinzo Abe, who led his conservative Liberal Democratic Party to victory in elections Dec. 16 after three years in opposition, was to be formally installed as prime minister on Wednesday for his second turn at the nation's helm. He was also prime minister in 2006-2007.
In filling the top party posts, Abe vowed to take bold measures to bring Japan out of its doldrums and win back public trust in the government, which has taken a beating over what many voters see as politicians’ failure to shore up the economy, deal with a swelling national debt and come up with a recovery plan following last year's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises.
“The Liberal Democratic Party has changed,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “We are not the party we once were.”
The new top party lineup includes two women — more than previous LDP administrations — and is younger than earlier ones, with three of the four in their 50s.
The LDP governed Japan for decades after it was founded in 1955, but has been the top opposition party since 2009 elections won by the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan. Before it was ousted, the LDP was hobbled by scandals and its own problems getting key legislation through a divided parliament.
This time around, Abe has promised to make the economy his top priority and is expected to push for a 2 percent inflation target designed to fight a problem that was until recently relatively unique in the world — deflation, or continually dropping prices, which deadens economic activity. The Japanese economy has been stuck in deflation for two decades.
Besides generous promises to boost public-works spending — by as much as 10 trillion yen ($119 billion), according to party officials — Abe is pressuring the central bank to work more closely with the government to reach the inflation target.
Abe has also stressed his desire to make Japan a bigger player on the world stage, a stance that has resonated with many voters who are concerned that their nation is increasingly taking a back seat both economically and diplomatically to China. Abe has vowed to stand up to Beijing over an ongoing territorial dispute and strengthen Tokyo's security alliance with Washington.
He has acknowledged, however, that the road ahead for Japan will be bumpy.
“Our party leadership will undoubtedly have to deal with many issues,” he said.
The ousted Democrats, meanwhile, named a new party chief to replace outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Banri Kaieda, a former trade minister, vowed to keep the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan from collapsing after its stinging defeat in the latest elections. Kaieda also said the party must continue to fight the conservatives.