Japan’s ruling party heads for victory after Abe’s death

Japan’s ruling party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in parliamentary elections on Sunday, possibly propelled by sympathy votes following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Early results in the race for the upper house of parliament showed Abe’s ruling party and his junior coalition partner Komeito secured a majority in the house and added more. The final day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Abe was shot while delivering a speech, was held under tight security as party leaders pledged to defend democracy and renounce the violence.

Also on Sunday, police in West Japan sent the suspected killer to the local prosecutor’s office for further investigation. A senior regional police official has acknowledged possible security breaches that allowed the attacker to get so close and fire a bullet at the still influential former Japanese leader.

Mourners offer flowers to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo at the entrance to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, Sunday, July 10, 2022. Japan is holding elections in the shadow of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot while delivering a campaign speech.


Preliminary vote tallies showed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was on track to secure a coalition total of at least 143 seats in the 248-member upper house, the less powerful of the two houses. The elections represented half of the upper house’s new six-year term. With a major boost likely, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to rule uninterrupted until elections scheduled for 2025.

This would allow Kishida to work on long-term political goals such as national security, his signature but still vague economic policy of “new capitalism“, and his party’s long-cherished goal of amending the pacifist constitution of post-war drafted by the United States.

Kishida and key party lawmakers observed a minute’s silence for Abe at the party’s election headquarters before placing victory ribbons on the whiteboard next to the names of the candidates who won their seats.

In the wake of Friday’s brazen murder, Sunday’s vote took on new meaning, with all political leaders stressing the importance of free speech and their commitment not to back down from violence against democracy.

“It was extremely meaningful that we held the election,” Kishida said. “Our effort to protect democracy continues.”

Kishida hailed the early results and said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he would also push for strengthening Japan’s national security as well as a constitutional amendment.

Early results suggest that a proposed charter change is now a possibility. The LDP and its junior partner as well as two supportive opposition parties are certain to together secure enough seats needed for an amendment proposal, which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers. The ruling bloc has already gained support from the other chamber.

On Saturday’s final day of campaigning, party leaders shunned the fist bumps or other friendly gestures of closeness they used to enjoy with the public – a sign of heightened security after the assassination of Abe at a campaign rally.

Mourners made their way to LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Abe as party officials prepared for the vote count inside.

“We absolutely refuse to allow violence to block freedom of expression,” Kishida said at his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and our elections will not shrink from violence.”

Abe was shot dead in Nara on Friday and airlifted to hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former Japanese Navy member at the scene and confiscated a homemade gun. Several others were later found in his apartment.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted on rumors that Abe was linked to an organization he resented, police said, but had no problem with the political views of the former leader. The man had developed hatred towards a religious group his mother was obsessed with and which bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, some of which identified the group as the Unification Church.

Abe’s body, in a black hearse accompanied by his wife, Akie, was returned to his home in Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya district, where many mourners, including Kishida and senior party officials, paid their respects. His wake and funeral are expected in the coming days.

Nara Prefectural Police Chief Tomoaki Onizuka said on Saturday the security concerns were undeniable, he was taking the shooting seriously and would review security procedures.

Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, there were just 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, according to the latest government crime brief. Experts say, however, that some recent attacks involved the use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be involved in mass attacks.

Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential within the PLD and led its largest faction. His absence could shift the balance of power within the ruling party that has ruled post-war Japan almost continuously since its founding in 1955, experts say.

“This could be a turning point” for the LDP over its divisive policies on gender equality, same-sex marriage and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values ​​had resisted, said Mitsuru Fukuda , professor of crisis management at Nihon. University.

Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to be influenced as fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and pragmatic policies made him a number that divides manyincluding Korea and China.

Abe quit his job two years ago blaming a recurrence of ulcerative colitis he had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of Japanese kidnapped years ago by North Koreaa territorial dispute with Russia and a revision of the Japanese constitution renouncing the war that many conservatives consider a humiliation, due to weak public support.

Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric was often aimed at making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation with a stronger military through a security alliance with the United States and a greater role in international affairs.

He became Japan’s youngest prime minister in 2006, aged 52. But his overly nationalistic first stint came to an abrupt end a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership changes.

He returned to power in 2012, promising to revitalize the nation and lift its economy out of its deflationary slump with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a solid grip on power.

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