Japan’s governing party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in a parliamentary election Sunday, possibly propelled by sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Early results in the race for the parliament’s upper house showed Abe’s governing party and its junior coalition partner Komeito securing a majority in the chamber and adding more. The last day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Abe was gunned down while delivering a speech, was held under heightened security as party leaders pledged to uphold democracy and renouncing violence.
Also Sunday, police in western Japan sent the alleged assassin to a local prosecutors’ office for further investigation. A top regional police official acknowledged possible security lapses that allowed the attacker to get so close and fire a bullet at the still-influential former Japanese leader.
Preliminary vote counts showed the governing Liberal Democratic Party on track to secure a coalition total of at least 143 seats in the 248-member upper house, the less powerful of the two chambers. Up for election was half of the upper house’s new six-year term. With a likely major boost, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.
That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policy goals such as national security, his signature but still vague new capitalism economic policy, and his party’s long-cherished goal to amend the U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution.
Kishida and senior party lawmakers observed a moment of silence for Abe at the party election headquarters before placing on the whiteboard victory ribbons next to the names of candidates who secured their seats.
In the wake of Friday’s brazen killing, Sunday’s vote took on a new meaning, with all political leaders emphasizing the importance of free speech and their pledge not to back down on violence against democracy.
It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election, Kishida said. Our endeavor to protect democracy continues.
Kishida welcomed early results and said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he will also steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.
Early results suggested a charter change proposal is now a possibility. The LDP and its junior partner as well as two supportive opposition parties together are certain to secure enough seats needed for an amendment proposal, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses. The governing bloc already has secured support in the other chamber.
On the final day of campaigning Saturday, party leaders avoided fist-bumps or other close-proximity friendly gestures they used to enjoy with the public — a sign of tightened security following Abe’s assassination during a campaign rally.
Mourners visited the LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Abe as party officials prepared for vote counting inside.
We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech, Kishida said in his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday. We must demonstrate that our democracy and election will not back down on violence.
Abe was shot in Nara on Friday and airlifted to a hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of Japan’s navy at the scene and confiscated a homemade gun. Several others were later found at his apartment.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views. The man had developed hatred toward a religious group that his mother was obsessed about and that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some that identified the group as the Unification Church.
Abe’s body, in a black hearse accompanied by his wife, Akie, returned to his home in Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya, where many mourners, including Kishida and top party officials, paid tribute. His wake and funeral are expected in coming days.
Nara prefectural police chief Tomoaki Onizuka on Saturday said that problems with security were undeniable, that he took the shooting seriously and will review the security procedures.