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Japan’s Ruling Party Gains Support After Abe’s Assassination

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Fumio Kishida, second left, Japan's prime minister and president of the Liberal Democratic Party, places a red paper rose on an LDP candidate's name, to indicate a victory in the upper house election. | Image by Toru Hanai

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Japan’s governing party and its coalition partner scored a significant victory in a parliamentary election Sunday that was infused with meaning after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The win was achieved amid uncertainty about how the loss of Abe could affect party unity.

In the elections for half of the seats in the less powerful upper house, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito increased their combined share in the 248-seat chamber to 146 – far exceeding a majority.

On Monday, mourners flocked to a temple in Tokyo to pay their condolences to the former prime minister after he was shot at an election rally three days prior. Numerous people attended Abe’s wake, including the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“There is a profound sense of sorrow at his loss,” Yellen said to reporters outside the temple, where she met Abe’s relatives and lit incense in his honor.

“Prime Minister Abe was a visionary leader, and he strengthened Japan … I know that his legacy will live on,” she added.

Kishida said he plans to focus on long-term initiatives like national security, his eponymous but undeveloped “new capitalism” economic program, and his party’s ardent desire to change the postwar pacifist constitution.

Japan’s pacifist constitution, which was drafted by the United States but has not been changed in 75 years, would need to be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of parliament and a majority in a referendum.

The LDP, Komeito, Japan Innovation Party, and Democratic Party for the People are the four parties that want to amend the charter or are open to doing so. Together, they needed to gain 82 seats to achieve a two-thirds majority.

There is now a chance a charter revision will be approved as the governing bloc has the majority necessary to submit an amendment. This was made possible with the assistance of two opposition parties who favor reform. The opposition chamber has already pledged support to the ruling coalition.

Given the loss of Abe and the challenging task of unifying his party without him, Kishida appreciated the significant victory but did not show enthusiasm.

Kishida reiterated in late-Sunday media interviews: “Party unity is more important than anything else.”

He declared that his top priority would be solutions to COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and inflation in Japan. He said that in addition to constitutional reform, he would continue to advocate for strengthening Japan’s national security.

On Sunday, voter participation was roughly 52%, up about 3 points over the previous year’s 48.8%.

At the party election headquarters, Kishida and top party leaders held a moment of silence for Abe before attaching victory ribbons on a whiteboard next to the names of candidates who won seats.

Abe, 67, was shot on Friday while making a political address in Nara, a city in western Japan, and died after severe blood loss. With two terms in government, he was Japan’s longest-serving political figure.

Even after leaving office in 2020, he held significant power inside the LDP as head of Seiwakai, the party’s most prominent group.

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