Japanese voters vote after Shinzo Abe’s assassination

Japanese voters went to the polls on Sunday to participate in parliamentary elections that could support the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a dominant politician and powerful figure.
Mr. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving contemporary leader, was gunned down Friday while speaking in support of a local candidate in the western city of Nara – an assassination that the political establishment condemned as an attack on democracy itself.

According to the Interior Ministry, turnout at 11:00 local time was 10.44 percent. This is more than 9.7% on the same day on the day of the last elections to the upper house in 2019. Media reports that 15.3% of voters voted in advance by absentee ballots.

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The polls will close at 20:00 local time, when the first results of the exit poll are expected.
“We just lost Mr. Abe. I would like the LDP to get a lot of votes so they can run the country steadily,” said Sakae Fujishiro, a 67-year-old retiree who voted for the ruling party in Tokyo. eastern region of Edogawa.
Elections to the less powerful upper house of parliament are usually seen as a referendum on the incumbent government, and opinion polls even before the assassination pointed to the strong position of the ruling bloc, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a protégé of Shinzo Abe.

As the nation mourns, the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito could benefit from a potential wave of sympathy votes, political scientists say.

“The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition was already on its way to a solid victory,” notes James Brady of consulting firm Teneo. “A wave of sympathy votes now could increase the chances of winning.”
The campaign was halted Friday after Abe’s assassination, but politicians resumed campaigning Saturday.
The police presence increased when Kishida showed up at a campaign event in a city southwest of Tokyo and a metal detection scanner was installed on site, an unusual security measure in Japan.
Meanwhile, the Nara Prefectural Police Department said on Sunday that it had confiscated a motorcycle and car belonging to the man arrested for the shooting, Tetsuya Yamagami.

According to the police department, officers recovered trays wrapped in aluminum foil from the car, which the suspect said he used to dry gunpowder, and wooden boards with holes, which he said he used to test-fire his makeshift weapons.

Investigation into the deadly attack on Shinzo Abe in Japan image

The 41-year-old unemployed man said he had been planning the attack for months, accusing the former prime minister of links to a religious cult he blamed for his mother’s financial ruin, local media reported.
Given the potential wave of sympathy following the assassination, the strong polling numbers could help Kishida solidify his rule, giving the former Hiroshima banker a chance to achieve his goal of increasing defense spending.
It could also allow him to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, something even the hawkish Abe has failed to achieve.
“In the coming months, the government will no doubt be looking to strengthen homeland security,” Brady said.

“By undermining public sense of security and order, the event could also provide further momentum to key Abe causes such as the defense build-up and constitutional revision.”

Party power vacuum

Polls last week showed the LDP won at least 60 of the 125 seats contested on Sunday, compared to the 55 seats it has now, allowing it to maintain the majority in the House it has with Komeito.
Reaching 69 seats in the upper house would have given the LDP a majority, a threshold that was considered a stretch until Mr. Abe’s assassination.

Not all voters were swayed by this assassination.

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“The Kishida administration is respected, but if the LDP stays in power too long, the result will be too much collusion,” said Yoshio Yamamoto, a 40-year-old civil servant who cast his vote in Tokyo’s central Nakano district. for the People’s Democratic Party.
Mr Kishida, once on the more dovish side of the LDP, has shifted to the right and said there may be elements in parts of the constitution that are “outdated and missing.”

Opinion polls show that the majority of voters are in favor of increased military power.

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But even the LDP’s strong performance will be overshadowed by the assassination of Mr. Abe, who, as a lawmaker who led the party’s largest faction, still wielded considerable power over political and personnel decisions.
Analysts say his death raises the specter of a power vacuum and potential unrest within the party.

The small populist Japan Innovation Party, which won seats in last year’s general election, could steal votes from the LDP. But since the party also supports constitutional revision, any progress it makes is likely to further the LDP’s goals.