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Exit Polls Suggest Japanese Opposition Party Victory

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Japanese voters went to the polls on Sunday, and according to early exit polls, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party appears to have won a clear majority.

The Associated Press is reporting that public broadcaster NHK projects the LDP has won between 275 and 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house of Japan's parliament.

The party's leader, Shinzo Abe, is slated to become prime minister for the second time. Abe first led the nation for a one-year stint in 2006-2007, but had to quit due to an illness.

NPR's Frank Langfitt, reporting from Tokyo, told Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that the lopsided victory was caused by a mix of developments in Japan.

"Part of it I think was a complete dissatisfaction with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan," Langfitt says. "They took over more than three years ago ... but a lot of people feel they lost their way politically."

Langfitt says voters also appeared to like Abe's stronger position on neighboring China and his vows to improve the nation's economy.

The AP has more:

"The results were a rebuke to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democrats for failing to deliver on a series of campaign pledges and for doubling the sales tax to 10 percent to meet growing social security costs as the population ages and shrinks.

With Japan stuck in a two-decade slump and receding behind China as the region's most important economic player, people appear to be turning back to the LDP, which led Japan for so many decades."

But as Langfitt reported on Friday, some analysts say much of the right-wing rhetoric is coming from Japanese politicians — and that most ordinary Japanese remain politically moderate.

Japan is the United States' biggest ally in Asia, and the LDP has vowed to strengthen the county and be more assertive with territorial disputes with China and the threat of rocket launches from North Korea.

Langfitt says U.S. interest in this election is fairly high.

"Japan is very important to U.S. strategy in this part of the world," he says. "I think the Americans would really like to see Japan get back on track economically [and militarily]."

Official results from Japan's election are not expected until Monday morning.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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