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TOKYO: Japanese people headed to the polls on Sunday in the shadow of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, shot while delivering a campaign speech for the ruling party heading for a likely major victory .
Amid voting on Sunday, police in West Japan sent the suspected killer to a local prosecutor’s office for further investigation with a view to bringing murder charges, the day after a senior police official Regional police have acknowledged possible security breaches that allowed the attacker to get so close and shoot the still influential former Japanese leader.
In a country still recovering from the shock, sadness and fear of the shooting of Abe – the first of a former ruler or leader to be assassinated in post-war Japan – voting has begun for half of the upper house, the least powerful of Japan’s two-chamber parliament.
Abe was shot dead in Nara on Friday and airlifted to hospital but died of blood loss. Police arrested a former member of the Japanese Navy at the scene. Police confiscated his homemade weapon and several more were later found in his apartment.
The alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s alleged connection to an organization he resented, police said, but had no problem with Abe’s political views. the former leader. The man had developed hatred towards a religious group his mother was obsessed with and which bankrupted a family business, according to media reports, some of which identified the group as the Unification Church.
Abe’s body, in a black hearse accompanied by his wife, Akie, was returned to his home in Tokyo’s upscale Shibuya residential area, where many mourners, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, their predecessors and senior party officials paid tribute. His wake and funeral are expected in the coming days.
Nara Prefectural Police Chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Saturday that Abe’s killing was his “biggest regret” in his 27-year career. He said the security concerns were undeniable, he took the shooting seriously and will review custody procedures.
Abe’s killing ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election shocked the nation and raised questions about whether adequate security was provided for the former prime minister.
Some observers who watched videos of the attack noted a lack of attention in the open space behind Abe as he spoke.
Experts also said Abe was more vulnerable standing on the ground floor rather than atop a campaign vehicle, a norm for first-class politicians, but that option would not have been available due of his hastily arranged visit to Nara.
Mitsuru Fukuda, a professor of crisis management at Nihon University, said police were seen focusing forward and paying little attention to what was behind Abe, noting that the suspect was approaching the old leader unnoticed until he fired the first shot.
“Obviously there were issues,” Fukuda said.
The first shot narrowly missed Abe and hit an election vehicle. The second entered through his upper left arm damaged the artery in his neck, causing massive bleeding and death.
Fukuda said election campaigns provide a chance for voters and politicians to interact because “political terrorism” was extremely rare in post-war Japan. It’s a key democratic process, but Abe’s killing could prompt tighter security at crowded events like campaigns, sports games and the like.
On Saturday, when party leaders came out for their final calls under tight security, there were no more fist bumps – a COVID-19-era alternative to handshakes – or other friendly gestures of closeness that they appreciated.
After Abe’s assassination, Sunday’s election took on new meaning, with all political leaders emphasizing the importance of free speech and their commitment not to give in to violence against democracy.
“We absolutely refuse to allow violence to block freedom of expression,” Kishida said at his final rally in the northern city of Niigata on Saturday amid tight security. “We must demonstrate that our democracy and our elections will not shrink from violence.”
According to the Asahi newspaper, Yamagami was a contract worker in a warehouse in Kyoto, driving a forklift. He was described as a quiet person at first, but started ignoring the rules which led to quarrels with his colleagues, then he started to miss work and quit in April citing health issues. A neighbor at his apartment told Asahi that he had never met Yamagami, although he remembered hearing noises like a saw being used several times late at night over the past month.
Japan is known for its strict gun laws. With a population of 125 million, there were just 21 gun-related criminal cases in 2020, 12 of them gang-related, according to the government’s latest crime brief. Experts say, however, that some recent attacks involved the use of consumer items such as gasoline, suggesting increased risks for ordinary people to be involved in mass attacks.
While media polls predicted a major victory for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party amid a fractured and weak opposition, a wave of sympathy votes following Abe’s assassination could bring a bigger win than the modest Kishida’s goal of winning the majority at home.
Even after stepping down as prime minister in 2020, Abe was highly influential within the PLD and led its largest faction. His absence could shift the balance of power within the ruling party that has ruled post-war Japan almost continuously since its founding in 1955, experts say.
“It 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 resisted, Fukuda said.
Japan’s current diplomatic and security stance is unlikely to change as fundamental changes had already been made by Abe. His ultra-nationalist views and down-to-earth political actions have made him a divisive figure for many, including in Korea and China.
Abe quit his job two years ago blaming a recurrence of ulcerative colitis he had since he was a teenager. He said he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, including the issue of the Japanese abducted years ago by North Korea, a territorial dispute with Russia and a revision of Japan’s renunciation constitution. to war that many conservatives see as a humiliation due to low public support.
Abe was groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. His political rhetoric was often aimed at making Japan a “normal” and “beautiful” nation 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 his overly nationalistic first stint came to an abrupt end a year later, also because of his health, prompting six years of annual leadership changes.
He returned to power in 2012, promising to revitalize the nation and lift its economy out of its deflationary slump with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a solid grip on power.