Japan ex-PM Shinzo Abe elected opposition leader

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Abe defeated four other lawmakers to secure the leadership

Japan's opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has chosen Shinzo Abe to be its new leader, potentially positioning him to become the next prime minister.

He defeated ex-defence chief Shigeru Ishiba in a run-off vote.

Mr Abe is a former prime minister who, when in office, called for a bigger global role for Japan and promoted efforts to boost national pride.

The vote comes with polls expected in coming months and the ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) hit by low public support.

The LDP governed Japan for half a century before it was ousted by the DPJ in 2009.

Three other candidates contested the leadership - Nobuteru Ishihara, son of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, Nobutaka Machimura, the former foreign minister, and Yoshimasa Hayashi, another former defence minister.

'Strong Japan'

Shinzo Abe succeeded Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister in September 2006 but stood down less than a year later after his party suffered a crushing defeat in upper house elections, citing ill health.

Initially popular, his administration was hit by a series of gaffes and scandals that caused his support to plummet.

Unlike his predecessor, he did not visit the controversial war-linked Yasukuni Shrine while in office - something which angers Japan's neighbours.

But he provoked anger in China and South Korea when he said there was no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II - a statement he later apologised for.

After his win, he said he would do his utmost to return the party to power.

"Not only for ourselves, not only for the LDP but for the purpose of building a strong Japan, a prosperous Japan, and a Japan in which Japanese people will be able to feel happy about being Japanese," he said.

While campaigning, he talked tough on the dispute over islands with China, saying: "I promise to protect Japan's land and sea, and the lives of the Japanese people no matter what."

His leadership win comes as the DPJ government, led by Yoshihiko Noda, faces low poll ratings.

Mr Noda's government is currently grappling with the territorial dispute with China and also trying to win public support for a hike in sales tax aimed at reducing public debt.

It is also tackling the problem of formulating an energy policy in a nation where anti-nuclear sentiment is running high.

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