Shinzo Abe, a conservative who favors hardline diplomacy and traditional values, was elected Wednesday as the 21st president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, paving the way for him to become Japan’s youngest postwar prime minister.
He will also be the first prime minister born after World War II.
Abe took 464 of 703 votes in the election, while Foreign Minister Taro Aso received 136 and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki 102, the LDP election committee said. One ballot was declared invalid.
Of the party’s 403 eligible Diet members, 267 chose Abe, 69 went with Aso and 66 selected Tanigaki.
Although Abe was widely expected to win, he captured only 66 percent of the lawmakers’ votes instead of the 70 percent predicted.
His victory guarantees that he will be elected prime minister by the Diet next Tuesday and succeed Junichiro Koizumi.
“I declare that I will, as the first party president to be born after (World War II), take over the flame of reform,” Abe said after the results were announced. “I vow to devote myself in working with you all toward creating a new and beautiful nation.”
With the LDP election over, attention has already turned to who Abe will pick for the party’s top posts and his Cabinet.
Aso said after the election that the number of votes he received was consistent with his expectations, while Tanigaki said he got more than he expected.
Asked if he will take any ministerial position offered, Aso said, “I will do my best to fulfill my duty as an LDP lawmaker.”
Many lawmakers from the various LDP factions jumped on Abe’s bandwagon, hoping his popularity with the public will help the ruling party gain more seats than the Democratic Party of Japan in a possibly harsh Upper House election next summer.
Whether the LDP retains its majority in the Upper House will decide the fate of Abe’s government, experts say.
The possibility of Abe taking the party’s helm became more certain when his strongest rival, Yasuo Fukuda, a veteran lawmaker harshly critical of Koizumi’s Asian diplomacy, said two months ago that he wouldn’t run.
Abe has no experience as a Cabinet minister. During his tenure as LDP leader, Koizumi first made Abe LDP secretary general and then named him chief Cabinet secretary, pushing him to the political center stage.
Abe had not been in the spotlight until he suddenly gained public support for his hardline stance on North Korea, especially on the abduction issue. Abe became known for being even more nationalistic than Koizumi, who conducted annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, even this year on the emotional day on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. China and South Korea criticized Japan for what they said is a lack of repentance for its wartime militarism.
One of the major planks of Abe’s campaign platform is to revise the pacifist Constitution, something he has called for throughout his political career. He stressed that it was drafted during the postwar Occupation and that the country has to create its own preamble to the Constitution.
Abe also pledged to reform education, stressing the importance of public schools and of nurturing students’ sense of caring about their country.
On the other hand, Abe has said he intends to improve relations with China and South Korea. In his policy platform announced Sept. 1, Abe pledged to restore trust with Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul.
Abe said at a group interview earlier that he will try to hold bilateral summits with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister.
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