TOKYO - Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party staged a dramatic comeback today, winning a landslide victory in the powerful lower house of Parliament, just three years after it was ousted from power.
Exit polls showed the main opposition party en route to secure a two-thirds majority with coalition party New Komeito, handing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Democratic Party of Japan a crushing defeat. The super majority allows the LDP to take control of both houses of Parliament, ending a deadlock that has plagued Japan for years and led to political instability.
The win paves the way for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's return, just five years after he resigned from office, citing health concerns. Abe's year-long term was marred by scandals involving cabinet ministers, and the 58-year-old said he had yet to regain "100 percent of the trust" back from voters.
"People are watching closely to see if the LDP can really respond to the expectations of the people," he said, in an interview with broadcaster NHK. "We are determined to produce results."
Abe is expected to shift Japanese policy to the right, calling for a revision of Japan's pacifist constitution, and increased military spending. He has advocated for a tougher stance against China in the ongoing territorial dispute over the Senkaku islands.
"This is the territory of Japan. That is a reality that will never be changed," he reiterated Sunday.
Abe has promised more public spending and aggressive monetary policy to weaken a strong yen and lift the economy out of a 20-year slump. He has supported the use of nuclear power, despite increasing anti-nuclear sentiment stemming from the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year.
Noda resigned as party leader, apologizing for the dismal election results.
"Politicians need to be judged by the results that we deliver, and the greatest responsibility for this great defeat falls on myself," he told reporters.
The DPJ swept to power in 2009, after half a century of nearly uninterrupted rule by the LDP, vowing bold change. But the party failed to follow through on its campaign promises. Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was forced to resign over the controversy surrounding U.S. Marine base Futenma in Okinawa. His successor Naoto Kan stepped down over his handling of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. Noda never recovered from an unpopular push to double the sales tax to deal with Japan's mounting public debt.
Several third parties emerged to appeal to voters disenchanted with the LDP and DPJ, but only one, the right-leaning Japan Restoration Party, won a significant number of seats. Led by conservative former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, the group picked up more than 40 seats, establishing itself as a major third party force.