Japan’s ruling party and its coalition partner took a major win on Sunday in parliamentary elections that have been steeped in significance after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, amid uncertainty over how his loss could affect the party’s unity.
The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito increased their combined share of the chamber by 248 seats to 146 — well above the majority — in the elections for half the seats in the less powerful upper house.
The boost will allow Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.
That would allow Kishida to work on long-term policies, such as national security, his signature but still vague economic policy of “new capitalism,” and his party’s long-held goal of amending the US-drafted post-war pacifist constitution.
A proposal to amend the charter is now possible. With the help of two opposition parties supporting a charter change, the governing bloc now has a two-thirds majority in the chamber needed to propose a change, making it a realistic possibility. The ruling bloc has already received support in the other chamber.
Kishida welcomed the big win, but didn’t smile, given Abe’s loss and the arduous task of uniting his party without him. In media interviews late Sunday, Kishida reiterated, “Party unity is more important than anything.”
He said responses to COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising prices will be his priorities. He said he will also steadily push for a strengthening of Japan’s national security and a constitutional amendment.
Kishida and senior party lawmakers observed a moment of silence for Abe at party election headquarters before placing the victory ribbons on the whiteboard next to the names of the candidates who had secured their seats.
Abe, 67, was gunned down Friday during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara and died of massive blood loss. He was Japan’s longest-serving political leader for two terms, and although he stepped down in 2020, he had significant influence 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 marriage and other issues that Abe-backed ultra-conservatives with paternalistic family values had opposed, said Mitsuru Fukuda, a crisis management professor at Nihon University.
Election in the Aftermath of Murder
It is unlikely that Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance will be affected because Abe had already made fundamental changes. His ultra-nationalist views and pragmatic policies made him a division for many, including in the Koreas and China.
After the assassination, Sunday’s vote took on new meaning, with all Japanese political leaders stressing the importance of freedom of expression and the defense of democracy against acts of violence.
Abe’s murder may have sparked sympathy votes. Turnout on Sunday was about 52 percent, up about three points from the previous 48.8 percent in 2019.
“It was extremely meaningful that we held the elections,” Kishida said on Sunday. “Our drive to protect democracy continues.”
On the final day of the campaign Saturday, party leaders avoided fist bumps and other friendly gestures in close contact with the public – a sign of heightened security after Abe’s assassination at a campaign rally.
Abe’s body has been returned to his home in upscale Tokyo’s Shibuya, where many mourners, including Kishida and top party officials, paid tribute. His wake and funeral are expected in the coming days.
On Sunday, the suspect charged with his murder was transferred to a local prosecutor’s office for further investigation, and a top regional police officer acknowledged that possible security flaws allowed the gunman to get close to Abe and point his homemade gun at him. fire.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of rumors of Abe’s association with an organization he disliked, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views. The man hated a religious group his mother was obsessed with that bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, including some who identified the group as the Unification Church.
Nara Prefecture Police Chief Tomoaki Onizuka said on Saturday that security concerns were undeniable, that he was taking the shooting seriously and will review security procedures.
Abe resigned two years ago, blaming a recurrence of the ulcerative colitis he’s had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, including the revision of Japan’s constitution that waives the war. While some conservatives view the post-World War II charter as a humiliation, the public is more supportive of the document.
Abe was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric often focused on making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” country 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 a year later, his overly nationalistic early period came to an abrupt end, also due to his health, leading to six years of annual leadership changes.
He returned to office in 2012, promising to revitalize the nation and take the economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reform. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.
Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, it had just 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, according to the government’s latest crime newspaper. However, experts say some recent attacks have used consumer items such as gasoline, indicating an increased risk for ordinary people of being involved in mass attacks.