Yuriko Nakao / Reuters
A couple on a bicycle cycles past election campaign posters displayed outside a polling station in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, Sunday.
TOKYO - Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged back to power in an election on Sunday just three years after a devastating defeat, giving ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a chance to push his hawkish security agenda and radical economic recipe.
Exit polls by television broadcasters showed the LDP winning nearly 300 seats in parliament's powerful 480-member lower house, while its ally, the small New Komeito party, looked set to win about 30 seats.
That would give the two parties the two-thirds majority needed to over-rule parliament's upper house, where no party has a majority and which can block bills, which should help to break a deadlock that has plagued the world's third biggest economy since 2007.
An LDP win will usher in a government committed to a tough stance in a territorial row with China, a pro-nuclear energy policy despite last year's Fukushima disaster and a potentially risky prescription for hyper-easy monetary policy and big fiscal spending to beat deflation and tame a strong yen.
Senior executives of the LDP and the New Komeito party met earlier to confirm they would form a coalition if they get a combined majority, Kyodo news agency reported.
"There's no doubt the LDP will team up with the New Komeito in the new government," LDP senior executive Yoshihide Suga told public broadcaster NHK.
Voters had expressed disappointment with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which swept to power in 2009 promising to pay more heed to consumers than companies and reduce bureaucrats' control of policymaking
Exit polls showed the DPJ, which was hit by defections ahead of the vote, winning only 65 seats, just over a fifth of their tally in 2009. Party executive Kohei Otsuka told NHK Noda would likely have to quit over the defeat, in which several party heavyweights lost their seats.
Many voters had said the DPJ failed to meet its election pledges as it struggled to govern and cope with last year's huge earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, and then pushed through an unpopular sales tax increase with LDP help.
Voter distaste for both major parties has spawned a clutch of new parties including the right-leaning Japan Restoration Party founded by popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. A dozen parties fielded candidates, confusing many voters.
Exit polls showed Hashimoto's party picking up about 46 seats. That could make it a potential LDP partner if the New Komeito, which is more moderate on security issues than the LDP, decides later to change allies, some analysts said.
Shohei Miyano / Reuters
Election officers prepare to count votes at a ballot counting centre for the lower house election in Tokyo, Sunday.
LDP leader Abe, 58, who quit as premier in 2007 citing ill health after a troubled year in office, has been talking tough in a row with China over uninhabited isles in the East China Sea, although some experts say he may temper his hard line with pragmatism once in office.
The soft-spoken grandson of a prime minister, who would become Japan's seventh premier in six years, Abe also wants to loosen the limits of a 1947 pacifist constitution on the military, so Japan can play a bigger global security role.
Many economists say that prescription for "Abenomics" could create temporary growth and enable the government to go ahead with a planned initial sales tax rise in 2014 to help curb a public debt now twice the size of gross domestic product.
But it looks unlikely to cure deeper ills or bring sustainable growth, and risks triggering a market backlash if investors decide Japan has lost control of its finances.
Japan's economy has been stuck in the doldrums for decades, its population ageing fast and big corporate brands faltering, making "Japan Inc" a synonym for decline.
Consumer electronics firms such as Sony Corp are struggling with competition from foreign rivals and burdened by a strong yen, which makes their products cost more overseas.
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