TOKYO Old-guard veteran Shinzo Abe was voted back into office as prime minister Wednesday and immediately named a new Cabinet, ending three years of liberal administrations and restoring power to his conservative, pro-big-business party that has run Japan for most of the post-World War II era.
Abe, whose nationalist positions have in the past angered Japan’s neighbors, is the country’s seventh prime minister in just over six years. He was also prime minister in 2006-2007 before resigning for health reasons that he says are no longer an issue.
The outspoken and often hawkish leader has promised to restore growth to an economy that has been struggling for 20 years. His new administration also faces souring relations with China and a complex debate over whether resource-poor Japan should wean itself off nuclear energy after last year’s earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at an atomic power plant.
On top of that, he will have to win over a public that gave his party a lukewarm mandate in elections Dec. 16, along with keeping at bay a still-powerful opposition in parliament. Though his party and its Buddhist-backed coalition partner is the biggest bloc in the more influential lower house, Abe actually came up short in the first round of voting in the upper house, then won in a runoff.
Capitalizing on voter discontent with the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan, Abe has vowed to shore up the economy, deal with a swelling national debt and come up with a fresh recovery plan after last year’s tsunami disaster, which set off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.