Japan’s governing party and its coalition partner scored a major victory in a parliamentary election on Sunday, possibly propelled by sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
arly results in the race for the parliament’s upper house showed Mr Abe’s governing party and its junior coalition partner Komeito securing a majority in the chamber.
The last day of campaigning on Saturday, a day after Mr Abe was gunned down while delivering a speech, was conducted under heightened security as party leaders pledged to uphold democracy and renounced violence.
Meanwhile the alleged assassin was sent by police in western Japan to a local prosecutors’ office on Sunday 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 (LDP) 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.
Half of the upper house’s new six-year term was up for election.
With a likely major boost, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands to rule without interruption until a scheduled election in 2025.
This would allow Mr 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 US-drafted post-war pacifist constitution.
Mr Kishida and senior party lawmakers observed a moment of silence for Mr Abe at the party election headquarters before placing victory ribbons on a whiteboard next to the names of candidates who had secured their seats.
Sunday’s vote took on a new meaning in the wake of Friday’s killing, with all political leaders emphasising 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,” Mr Kishida said.
“Our endeavour to protect democracy continues.”
Mr Kishida welcomed early results and said responses to Covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices would be his priorities.
He also said he would steadily push for reinforcing Japan’s national security as well a constitutional amendment.
Early results suggested a charter change proposal was 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 had already secured support in the other chamber.
Mourners visited the LDP headquarters to lay flowers and pray for Mr Abe as party officials prepared for vote counting inside.
“We absolutely refuse to let violence shut out free speech,” Mr 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.”
Mr Abe was shot in Nara on Friday and airlifted to 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 Mr Abe’s rumoured connection to an organisation that he resented, police said, but had no problem with the former leader’s political views.
The man had developed hatred towards 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.
Mr Abe’s body, carried in a black hearse and accompanied by his wife, Akie, returned to his home in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where many mourners, including Mr Kishida and top party officials, paid tribute. His wake and funeral are expected in coming days.