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Second time around, Japan's Abe hits the ground running

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Shinzo Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party won Sunday's upper house election, has proved himself a canny operator able to rein in his nationalist instincts and focus on Japan's sickly economy.

The third-generation politician has enjoyed public approval ratings of over 60 percent since beginning his second stint as premier in December when his LDP won lower house elections.

He was the country's youngest ever prime minister when he stepped into the role in 2006, aged 52, and the first one to be born after World War II.

But he left office abruptly 12 months later, citing illness after an election defeat -- becoming the first in a series of short-lived premiers, each of whom lasted around a year.

Pledging not to repeat past mistakes, Abe this time hit the ground running with a policy plan -- dubbed "Abenomics" -- that weakened the too-strong yen, cheering exporters and sending the stock market soaring.

Now he says he will cut red tape and taxes to "revive private sector vigour" and has pledged Japan's participation in a mooted free trade area encircling the Pacific Ocean.

But Sunday's landslide may also encourage in him a renewed passion to loosen the bonds of pacifism imposed on a vanquished Japan by the United States in 1947.

"Let's revise the constitution in order to create a proud country," the hawkish leader told voters on the eve of Sunday's poll.

That may hamper efforts to mend ties with China and South Korea over territorial disputes and shared history.

Abe, who has not ruled out a visit to Tokyo's controversial war shrine, has yet to meet either Chinese President Xi Jinping or South Korean president Park Geun-Hye.

Abe is the second man in modern Japan to serve as premier twice, after Shigeru Yoshida who led the nation in 1946-47 and 1948-54.

His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a World War II cabinet member and was briefly arrested for war crimes, but never charged.

Kishi later became prime minister, fighting leftists to build a new alliance with Washington.

Abe's father was Shintaro Abe, a foreign minister who never achieved his ambition of becoming prime minister. Shinzo Abe took his father's parliamentary seat in 1993 following his death.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130721/second-time-around-japans-abe-hits-the-ground-running