Nationalist Abe likely next prime minister of Japan

Efforts to recharge economy may worsen tensions with China

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After his father’s death, Mr. Abe ran for parliament’s lower house and was elected in 1993.

A soft-spoken, natty dresser, Mr. Abe rose through the Liberal Democratic ranks, aided by a successful, high-profile battle in 2002 to win the release from North Korea of five kidnapped Japanese citizens, who returned home for what was supposed to be a brief visit and, at his insistence, stayed.

That helped burnish his image as a defense hawk.

But scandals among his Cabinet ministers and problems with ulcerative colitis brought that term in office to an abrupt end.

In a September party election, Mr. Abe came from behind to defeat ex-defense chief Shigeru Ishiba as head of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Abe long has allied himself with other conservative politicians who favor a higher-profile role for Japan’s military and support controversial visits to the Yasukuni war shrine.

He denies there is proof that Japan’s military really forced women into sexual slavery during the war and maintains that Japan’s history textbooks are too self-critical over wartime atrocities.

Economic focus

Such stances are certain to rile China at a time of already acute antagonisms over a territorial dispute.

Still, economic imperatives and Mr. Abe’s strong links to the corporate world may help temper his hard line toward China.

His wife, Akie, is the socialite daughter of a former president of one of Japan’s leading confectioners, Morinaga & Co.

Despite the Liberal Democrats‘ conservative stance on gender equality, the future first lady is a businesswoman in her own right, owning a pub in downtown Tokyo.

Surveys forecasting a Liberal Democratic victory have driven recent rallies on Japan’s stock market and helped drive the Japanese yen – which Mr. Abe has pledged to weaken – to a 20-month low against the U.S. dollar.

Mr. Abe is calling for sharply increased public-works spending and further easing of Japan’s already loose monetary policies.

Such strategies could give Japan’s construction and materials industries at least a temporary boost and help exporters by weakening the Japanese yen – which has remained at stubbornly high levels thanks to the conviction among global investors that the country remains a financial safe haven.

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