[New York Times] Former Prime Minister in Japan Elected to Lead Opposition Party

<Quote> [The New York Times]

TOKYO — Shinzo Abe, a nationalist former prime minister, was elected to lead Japan’s main opposition party on Wednesday, giving him a chance of regaining the nation’s top job — a prospect that could worsen the country’s tense relations with China and its other Asian neighbors.

Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is poised to make gains in nationwide elections expected soon, in part because of the unpopularity of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Poll ratings for Mr. Noda and his Democratic Party have been pulled down by the party’s handling of last year’s disasters and gridlock in Parliament that has crippled policy making.

“We are going to win back Japan and build a strong country, a prosperous country,” Mr. Abe said after defeating four other candidates in the party ballot.

It is a striking return to the spotlight for Mr. Abe — who called for a stronger and unapologetic Japan when he took office in 2006, but stepped down just a year later, citing a health problem — after his party suffered a defeat in an interim election. At the time, Mr. Abe’s nationalist agenda seemed off the mark for a public that was more interested in jobs and economic recovery.

During his brief term, he angered China and South Korea with moves to change Japan’s pacifist Constitution, denials that Asian women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II, and efforts to alter school textbooks to present what critics called a whitewashed version of Japan’s wartime history. But in some ways, he kept tensions with China from boiling over, picking Beijing for his first official trip overseas and refraining from visiting a contentious Tokyo war shrine.

But with emotions running high between Japan and China in recent weeks over a set of disputed islands, a return to office by Mr. Abe could help fuel more tension. Mr. Abe has veered further to the right since his time as prime minister, suggesting recently that he intends to visit the Yasukuni war shrine if he becomes prime minister again and may even seek to nullify some of Japan’s war apologies.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Abe promised to take a strong stand in the dispute with Beijing over the islands, even as he referred to Japan’s strong economic ties with China. He said he would also seek to strengthen Japan’s defense cooperation with the United States by taking a more active military role.

Political analysts had all but written off Mr. Abe after his abrupt resignation, which drew much ridicule and greatly weakened the long-ruling Liberal Democrats. His party eventually lost to the Democrats in 2009, ending a half-century of almost uninterrupted rule.

But now the Democratic Party has lost much of its support, having fallen short on many of its promises to wrest power away from the country’s bureaucrats. The public is disillusioned with reconstruction efforts after the tsunami and nuclear crisis last year, and the moribund economy remains a drag. Mr. Noda is under mounting pressure to call elections soon, though he need not hold them until next summer. Analysts agree that the Democrats would probably lose their majority in Parliament’s lower house in an early vote, but the Liberal Democrats are seen as unlikely to win a majority either, inviting further political gridlock.

Mr. Abe had not been the front-runner in the party balloting on Wednesday; he ran second in the initial round to Shigeru Ishiba, a conservative but less ideological former defense minister. But party elders did not back Mr. Ishiba in the runoff, analysts said, because of an independent streak that led Mr. Ishiba to leave the party for a time in the 1990s. Mr. Abe ultimately won the party vote, 108-89.

Now, the Liberal Democrats and Democrats appear set to limp into an election to decide which party is the least unpopular.

“I don’t think the Liberal Democrats can hope for much more support under Mr. Abe, who comes with a sense of tired déjà vu,” said Atsuo Ito, an independent political analyst who has worked in the secretariats of both parties. “But there will be no change to the public’s deep-rooted disillusionment with the Democrats,” he said.

If the two largest parties perform as tepidly as recent polls suggest, the future political landscape may depend on whether they can work together, given that their platforms are similar on most issues.

“It would be good if the parties can somehow cooperate across party lines,” Harumi Arima, a well-known political commentator and newscaster. “But if they can’t, I’m afraid we’re heading into more confusion.”

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Français : (NB : Je ne traduis pas, je prends un article “équivalent” dans la presse francophone)

L’ex-Premier ministre Abe à la tête de l’opposition japonaise

TOKYO (Reuters) – Le principal parti d’opposition japonais, le Parti libéral-démocrate (PLD, droite), a désigné mercredi l’ancien Premier ministre Shinzo Abe, 58 ans, comme nouveau dirigeant, à l’approche d’élections législatives anticipées qui pourraient le porter au pouvoir.

Abe, petit-fils d’un ministre du gouvernement pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, pourrait devenir le prochain Premier ministre du Japon, les sondages donnant son parti en tête devant le Parti démocrate (PDJ), lors d’élections à la chambre basse qui pourraient se tenir en novembre.

Il avait quitté brusquement le gouvernement en 2007, invoquant des raisons de santé, après être resté seulement un an au pouvoir.

Pendant la campagne, les candidats à la direction du PLD ont tenu des propos aux accents bellicistes, alors que les relations entre avec Pékin se sont détériorées après l’achat par le gouvernement japonais des îles Senkaku-Diaoyu en mer de Chine orientale, dont les Chinois revendiquent la propriété.

Abe, qui n’était pas considéré comme favori en raison des circonstances de sa démission, est sans doute celui qui a fait le plus entendre sa voix, appelant Tokyo à adopter une attitude plus ferme dans les conflits territoriaux qui l’opposent à la Chine et à la Corée du Sud.

Il s’est déclaré favorable à la révision de la constitution pacifiste du Japon, adoptée sous occupation américaine, et souhaite par ailleurs remplacer la déclaration historique de 1995 dans laquelle le Premier ministre de l’époque, Tomiichi Murayama, s’excusait pour les souffrances causées par l’agression japonaise pendant la guerre.

“Je pense que la Chine sera inquiète, de même que la Corée (…) Je pense que cela pourrait pousser certains dirigeants à vouloir améliorer les relations avant l’arrivée du PLD au pouvoir”, analyse Koichi Nakao, professeur à l’Université Sophia de Tokyo.

S’il remporte les élections, le PLD devra néanmoins former un gouvernement de coalition, à en croire les sondages. Il pourrait s’associer avec le parti populiste du maire d’Osaka Toru Hashimoto, que les critiques accusent d’exploiter le sentiment nationaliste des Japonais.

Abe s’est également prononcé pour une modification des statuts de la banque centrale japonaise, afin de l’obliger à intervenir davantage dans la relance de l’économie.

Tetsushi Kajimoto et Kiyoshi Takenaka, Hélène Duvigneau pour le service français

Source : Le Nouvel Observateur/REUTERS

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