TOKYO -- Parliament formally elected Shinzo Abe as prime minister on Wednesday, ending a three-year break from decades of near-constant rule by his conservative Liberal Democratic Party.
The victory puts Mr. Abe, 58, a former prime minister and an outspoken nationalist, at Japan's helm as it faces the growing burden of its aging population, years of industrial decline and the challenge of an increasingly assertive China. The change in prime ministers is the seventh in six years, a high turnover that is itself a sign of the nation's inability to escape its long economic funk.
Mr. Abe won the support of 328 members of the 480-seat lower house, a total that included votes from the Liberal Democrats' coalition partner, a small Buddhist party.
Mr. Abe's pro-business party won a landslide victory over the left-leaning Democratic Party in lower-house elections on Dec. 16. Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his cabinet resigned to make way for the new leader.
Despite Mr. Abe's vows to strengthen control of a chain of islands in the East China Sea that both Japan and China claim, he has played down any confrontations between Tokyo and its Asian neighbors since the elections, instead focusing his agenda on lifting Japan's economy out of recession before the upper-house elections next summer.
Mr. Abe has vowed to encourage growth quickly by offering 10 trillion yen, or about $120 billion, in public works and other emergency stimulus spending. He has also promised to force the central bank to move more aggressively to combat deflation and to weaken the value of the yen, actions that would offer relief to beleaguered export industries by making Japanese products cheaper abroad.
The measures are intended to revive the economy ahead of the elections in June, to give Mr. Abe's party a better chance of winning the upper house and, with it, control of Parliament. Mr. Abe will have to hurry to retain the support of Japan's weary voters, who have shown themselves quick to turn against leaders who fail to deliver on promises of change.
Immediately after the vote on Wednesday, Mr. Abe began appointing a cabinet filled with relatively young and unknown faces. While many of these appointees are Mr. Abe's friends, the fresh lineup is also apparently intended to emphasize that the party has changed since it was driven from power three years ago.
Among the few veterans in the cabinet is Taro Aso, 72, a former prime minister, who was appointed finance minister. The post of foreign minister went to Fumio Kishida, 55, a former minister in charge of Okinawan affairs. He is expected to try to smooth ties with the United States that have been frayed by a dispute over an American air base on Okinawa.
Mr. Abe will face other early challenges, like bridging a rift within his party over whether Japan should join a new regional free-trade agreement led by the United States. The pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is supported by business leaders but opposed by farmers, two groups that are among the staunchest supporters of the Liberal Democrats.
Another challenge will be responding to China's stepped-up efforts to assert its claims to the disputed islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu. Chinese ships and, more recently, aircraft now make almost daily incursions into Japanese-controlled waters and airspace near the islands, with no signs of letting up.
Mr. Abe has been vague about whether he will shift his energies to his long-held desire to rewrite Japan's antiwar Constitution to allow for a full-fledged military.
Mr. Abe and other conservatives say such a step is needed for Japan to stand up for itself in light of China's growing strength, and to share more of the regional security burden with the United States. However, the move could also be seen as provocative by China and South Korea, two victims of Japan's World War II-era militaristic policies.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.