Japan ruling party wins big in polls in wake of Abe’s death


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The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito raised their combined share in the 248-seat chamber to 146 — far beyond the majority — in the elections for half of the seats in the less powerful upper house.

The boost has allowed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to continue his rule until the 2025 election.

That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policies such as national security, his signature but still vague “new capitalism” economic policy, and his party’s long-cherished goal to amend the US-drafted postwar pacifist constitution.

Now, a charter change proposal is possible. Two opposition parties supporting a charter amendment have helped the governing bloc to secure the two-thirds majority needed in the chamber to propose an amendement. It is now a real possibility. Already, the governing bloc has gained support from the other chamber.

Kishida welcomed the major win but wasn’t smiling, given the loss of Abe and the hard task of unifying his party without him. In media interviews late Sunday, Kishida repeated: “Party unity is more important than anything else.” He said responses to COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of UkraineHe will prioritize rising prices and reducing inflation. He said he will also steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.

Kishida, senior lawmakers of the party observed a moment’s silence for Abe at headquarters of the party’s election campaign before placing victory ribbons on the whiteboard next to names of candidates who had secured their seats.

Abe, 67 years old, was killed in a shooting accident while delivering a campaign speech to Nara’s western city. He also suffered massive blood loss. He was Japan’s longest-serving political leader over two terms in office, and though he stepped down in 2020 was deeply influential in the LDP while heading its largest faction, Seiwakai.

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

Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to be swayed because fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His pragmatic views and ultra-nationalist views made him a divisive figure, even among the Koreas and China.

Following the assassination, Sunday’s vote took on new meaning, with all of Japan’s political leaders emphasizing the importance of free speech and defending democracy against acts of violence.

Abe’s killing may have resulted in sympathy votes. On Sunday, the turnout was 52%. This is up 3 points from the 48.8% of 2019.

“It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election,” Kishida said Sunday. “Our endeavor to protect democracy continues.” On the final day of campaigning Saturday, party leaders avoided fist-bumps and other friendly gestures in close contact with the public — a sign of tightened security following Abe’s assassination during a campaign rally.

Abe’s body has been returned to his home in Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya, where many mourners, including Kishida and top party officials, paid tribute. In the coming days, his wake and funeral will be held.

On Sunday, the suspect accused of his murder was transferred to a local prosecutors’ office for further investigation, and a top regional police official acknowledged possible security lapses allowed the gunman to get close to Abe and fire his homemade gun at him.

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. According to media reports including one that identified the Unification Church as the group, the man hated a religious organization that his mother was obsessed over and which bankrupted his family business.

Nara prefectural chief police officer Tomoaki Onizuka claimed Saturday that security issues were not in doubt. He stated that he takes the shooting seriously, and will review security procedures.

Japan is well-known for its strict gun laws. According to the most recent government crime paper, there were only 21 gun-related criminal charges in Japan in 2020. Experts claim that some attacks in recent years involved gasoline consumption, raising the possibility of mass violence against ordinary people.


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