Decisive vote

Japanese voters have given the opposition Liberal Democratic Party a massive mandate. In power for an uninterrupted five decades till its ouster in 2009, the LDP has won 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of Parliament. Together with its coalition partner it will hold a two-thirds majority. The general election has proved disastrous for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). It is a pity that the party, which so dramatically ended the LDP’s long innings in power by winning 230 seats in 2009, has now been reduced to just 57 seats in the lower house. It had promised to break the nexus between politicians and business but during its at the helm it was riven with bitter infighting and corruption scandals. It failed to jumpstart the economy. Disillusionment with the DPJ soared quickly. The LDP became a beneficiary of that disillusionment.

In power, the conservative-nationalist LDP can be expected to take an assertive, even confrontationist approach to dealing with its neighbours. The region is already roiled in tension. Relations with China have sunk to an all-time low. A spat over ownership of islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China has seen Tokyo and Beijing engage not just in a war of words but also, increasingly military muscle flexing. Throughout the election campaign LDP leader, Shinzo Abe, who is expected to become prime minister, struck a strident, nationalist tone, promising to ‘stand up to the Chinese.’ Many will be hoping that his hostility-laced speeches during the campaign were mere election gimmicks. Abe’s return to the helm in Japan has sent out ripples of unease in East Asia. In his previous term as prime minister, he raised hackles in the neighbourhood by insisting that there was no evidence that Korean and Chinese women were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War-II.

Abe’s return as prime minister will be welcomed in India. During his previous stint, he had spoken in favour of building stronger bonds with India. Economic and defence co-operation can be expected to expand. While warm relations with Japan are welcome – there are a range of bilateral and global issues on which the two can work together - India must tread cautiously. It should avoid getting drawn into Abe’s anti-China obsessions.

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