Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet resigned Wednesday to clear the way for a vote in parliament to formally install the nation's new leader, Shinzo Abe, a conservative whose nationalist positions have in the past angered Japan's neighbors.
Noda's fall ends more than three years at the helm for the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan and brings back the more conservative, pro-big business Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan for most of the post-World War II era until voters fed up with scandals and Japan's sagging economy tossed them out in 2009.
In announcing the resignations, the chief government spokesman said the incoming government will face many tough issues and said he hoped they would deal with them "appropriately."
Capitalizing on the Democrats' failure to improve the economy and its perceived lack of strong leadership, Abe led the Liberal Democratic Party to victory in parliamentary elections Dec. 16. He was to be named prime minister later Wednesday. He was also prime minister in 2006-2007.
Abe has vowed to take bold measures to shore up the economy, deal with a swelling national debt and come up with a recovery plan following last year's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises.
"The Liberal Democratic Party has changed," he told a news conference Tuesday. "We are not the party we once were."
He has already named a roster of top party executives that includes two women — more than previous LDP administrations — and is younger than earlier ones, with three of the four in their 50s. He was expected to name his Cabinet after the parliamentary vote.
According to media reports, he will give the finance portfolio to another former prime minister, Taro Aso. Fumio Kishida, who is an expert on issues relating to frictions on the southern island of Okinawa between residents and nearly 20,000 US troops based there, will likely become foreign minister, and the defense minister was expected to be Itsunori Onodera, who was in Abe's previous administration.
The LDP governed Japan for decades after it was founded in 1955. Before it was ousted, the LDP was hobbled by scandals and its own problems getting key legislation through a divided parliament.
This time around, Abe has promised to make the economy his top priority and is expected to push for a 2 percent inflation target designed to fight a problem that was until recently relatively unique in the world — deflation, or continually dropping prices, which deadens economic activity. The Japanese economy has been stuck in deflation for two decades.
Besides generous promises to boost public-works spending — by as much as 10 trillion yen ($119 billion), according to party officials — Abe is pressuring the central bank to work more closely with the government to reach the inflation target.
Abe has also stressed his desire to make Japan a bigger player on the world stage, a stance that has resonated with many voters who are concerned that their nation is increasingly taking a back seat both economically and diplomatically to China. Abe has vowed to stand up to Beijing over an ongoing territorial dispute and strengthen Tokyo's security alliance with Washington.
He has acknowledged, however, that the road ahead for Japan will be bumpy.
"Our party leadership will undoubtedly have to deal with many issues," he said Tuesday.
The ousted Democrats, meanwhile, named a new party chief to replace Noda.
Banri Kaieda, a former trade minister, vowed to keep the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan from collapsing after its stinging defeat in the latest elections. Kaieda also said the party must continue to fight the conservatives.