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The LDP may also have benefited from voter confusion over the dizzying array of more than 12 parties, including several news ones, and their sometimes vague policy goals.

One of the new parties, the right-leaning, populist Japan Restoration Party, won between 40 to 61 seats, NHK projected. The party, led by the bombastic nationalist ex-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto — both of whom are polarizing figures with forceful leadership styles — could become a future coalition partner for the LDP, analysts said.

Mr. Ishihara was the one who stirred up the latest dispute with China over the islands when he proposed that the Tokyo government buy them from their private Japanese owners and develop them.

In this first election since the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, atomic energy ended up not being a major election issue, even though polls show about 80 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power.

In the end, economic concerns won out, said Kazuhisa Kawakami at Meiji Gakuin University.

“We need to prioritize the economy, especially since we are an island nation,” he said. “We’re not like Germany. We can’t just get energy from other countries in a pinch.”

The staunchly anti-nuclear Tomorrow Party — which was formed just three weeks ago — captured between six and 15 seats, NHK estimated.

Tomorrow Party head Yukiko Kada said she was very disappointed to see LDP, the original promoter of the nuclear energy policy — and still the most pro-nuclear party — making a big comeback.

Mr. Abe, 58, is considered one of the more conservative figures in the increasingly conservative LDP.

During his previous tenure as prime minister, he pursued a nationalistic agenda, pressing for more patriotic education and upgrading the defense agency to ministry status.

It remains to be seen how he will behave this time around, though he is talking tough toward China, and the LDP platform calls developing fisheries and setting up a permanent outpost in the disputed islands, called Senkakus by Japan and Daioyu by China — a move that would infuriate Beijing.

During his time as leader, Mr. Abe also insisted there was no proof Japan’s military had coerced Chinese, Korean and other women into prostitution in military brothels during Japan’s wartime aggression in Asia. He later apologized but lately has suggested that a landmark 1993 apology for sex slavery needs revising.

He has said he regrets not visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan’s war dead, including Class-A war criminals, during his term as prime minister. China and South Korea oppose such visits, saying they reflect Japan’s reluctance to fully atone for its wartime atrocities.

The LDP wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution to strengthen its Self-Defense Forces and, breaching a postwar taboo, designate them as a “military.” It also proposes increasing Japan’s defense budget and allowing Japanese troops to engage in “collective self-defense” operations with allies that are not directly related to Japan’s own defense.

It’s not clear, however, how strongly the LDP will push such proposals, which have been kicked around by conservatives for decades but usually make no headway in parliament because they are supported only by a fairly small group of right-wing advocates.

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