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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on July 23)
Abe's choice

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strengthened his hand to carry on his economic recovery program and nationalist agenda with a thumping win in Sunday's election. His Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner secured a comfortable majority in the upper legislative chamber, giving the premier control over both houses of parliament.

   With the next national election scheduled to be held in three years the conservative ruling bloc's victory has opened the way for Abe to become Japan's first long-term prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi, who ruled for five years until 2006. It has also consolidated his position in dealing with his counterparts from South Korea and China, who are set to be in office for the coming five and 10 years, respectively.

   What Abe will do with his strengthened hand may shape Japan's future and affect the situation in Northeast Asia. Taking control over both chambers of the Diet will remove political obstacles to pressing ahead with his agenda. That will enable him to push for his economic policy drive dubbed Abenomics, which is designed to bolster Japan's economy that has long underperformed. Many Japanese voters appeared to have cast ballots for his party to give him a mandate to carry though the reflationary measures that have pushed the value of the yen down and sent the stock market soaring.

   As his critics have noted, however, Abenomics can be part of a broader plan for consolidating the foundation that will enable the premier to return to his conservative and nationalist agenda. Since he regained the job in December, Abe has made no secret of his intentions to revise Japan's pacifist constitution, bolster its military and reassess its imperialist history, which are certain to further exacerbate the already-strained ties with South Korea and China. It is undesirable and unhelpful for both Japan's interests and regional stability, if he chooses to use his latest election victory to achieve such goals, which critics have described as anachronistic.

   Though there is not much chance of it, he may mitigate his conservative swing to mend ties with Japan's two key neighbors now that he has gone through major elections at home. Tokyo will likely find it increasingly burdensome to become further estranged from South Korea and China, which have strengthened partnership with their leaders -- President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping -- deepening their personal bond. In this context, close attention will be paid to whether Abe will visit a controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Aug. 15, which marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. Abe has expressed regret over his failure to do so during his first stint as prime minister, which ran for a year until September 2007.

   Probably at the pinnacle of his political career, he needs to think more about the right course for accomplishing his campaign pledge to revive Japan. And that may be what many of the voters want Abe to do, despite their support for what he calls "decisive and stable politics."