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As Expected, Abe Is Elected Premier of Japan

September 26, 2006|Bruce Wallace | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — Japan's parliament elected Shinzo Abe as prime minister today, swapping the leadership theatrics of Junichiro Koizumi for a less charismatic and untested politician who emerged from a new wave of assertive Japanese nationalists.

Abe won election easily, securing votes from a majority of lawmakers, most of whom are members of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito Party.

At 52, Abe becomes Japan's youngest prime minister since World War II.

He arrives in office having promised to strengthen Japan's military alliance with the United States and improve his nation's relations with China.

Beijing accuses Japanese politicians of stirring nationalist ghosts as the country pushes to play a greater role in the world. Abe has sought to allay concerns that his election would spark sharper confrontations with China.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Japan and Taiwan: An article Tuesday in Section A on the election of Shinzo Abe as Japan's prime minister referred to Taiwan as an ally of the nation. Japan does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It has obligations to Taiwan's security that stem, in part, from a 2005 joint declaration with the United States that maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait is a "common strategic objective."

But Chinese wariness may only increase if the prime minister pushes ahead with his major goals, which include plans to rewrite the constitution to lift restrictions on sending Japanese troops abroad or to the collective defense of allies such as the U.S. or Taiwan.

Abe advocates teaching patriotism in Japanese schools and has said one of his government's first orders of business will be to revise Japan's 1947 Basic Law on Education. That move is sure to be controversial and may only heighten the charged nationalist atmosphere.

But the lifespan of the new administration may depend more on how it deals with tricky economic issues. Abe must decide whether to raise taxes or shrink spending to reduce Japan's massive public debt. He must also find a way to sustain Koizumi's free-market reforms at a time when many Japanese worry that those changes have created greater social inequality.

Alarm over the costs of opening to globalization has weakened the LDP in its traditionally rural strongholds. The challenge for Abe is to find a way to revive his party's fortunes in those regions without resorting to old habits of pouring public funds into massive -- but unproductive -- construction projects.


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