TOKYO — Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in a landslide election victory Sunday after three years in opposition, according to unofficial results, signaling a rightward shift in the government that could further heighten tensions with China, a key economic partner as well as rival.
The victory means that the hawkish former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will get a second chance to lead the nation after a one-year stint in 2006-2007. He would be Japan's seventh prime minister in 61/2 years.
In the first election since the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, atomic energy ended up not being a major election issue even though polls show about 80 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power.
Public broadcaster NHK's tally showed that the LDP, which ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era until it was dumped in 2009, won 294 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament. Official results were not expected until today.
LDP, the most pro-nuclear power party, had 118 seats before the election. A new, staunchly antinuclear power party won just nine seats, according to NHK.
In the end, economic concerns won out, said Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University.
"We need to prioritize the economy, especially since we are an island nation," he said. "We're not like Germany. We can't just get energy from other countries in a pinch."
The results were a sharp rebuke for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's ruling Democratic Party of Japan, reflecting widespread unhappiness with its failure to keep campaign promises and get the stagnant economy going during its three years in power.
The DPJ won in a landslide three years ago amid high hopes for change, but won only 57 seats, according to the NHK tally. Going into the election, the party held 230 seats.
The LDP will stick with its longtime partner, the New Komeito Party, backed by a Buddhist organization, to form a coalition government, party officials said. Together, they now control 325 seats, securing a two-thirds majority that would make it easier for the government to pass legislation.