Japan’s ruling coalition makes strong election showing after Abe killing

Japan’s conservative coalition government was projected to increase its majority in the upper house of parliament in an election on Sunday, two days after the assassination of dominant politician and power broker Shinzo Abe.

Japan’s longest-serving modern leader was gunned down on Friday during a speech supporting a candidate in the western city of Nara, a killing the political establishment condemned as an attack on democracy itself.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which Abe remained a senior lawmaker, and its junior partner Komeito were on track to win 69 to 83 of the 125 seats contested in the chamber, up from 69 previously, according to an exit poll by public broadcaster NHK.

“It’s significant we were able to pull this election together at a time violence was shaking the foundations of the election,” Kishida, an Abe protege, said after the exit poll.

Elections for parliament‘s less powerful upper house are typically a referendum on the sitting government. Change of government was not at stake, as that is determined by the lower house.

But the strong showing could help Kishida consolidate his rule, giving the former banker from Hiroshima a chance to achieve his goal of boosting military spending at a time of tension with neighbours China, Russia and North Korea.

The party held a moment of silence for Abe at its Tokyo headquarters as members waited for results to come in. Final results are due on Monday.

The LDP was projected to win as many as 69 seats, according to the exit poll, which would give it a majority even without Komeito.

Its gains might allow Kishida to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, a dream Abe never achieved.

Parties open to revising the pacifist constitution were projected to maintain their two-thirds majority in the upper house. Most voters favour greater military strength, opinion polls show.

Kishida may move cautiously on constitutional change, but the apparent victory looked set to pave the way for more defence spending, a key LDP election promise, said Robert Ward of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Kishida “now has a green light for this”, Ward said.

Asked about constitutional revision on Sunday evening, Kishida said he would focus on putting together a bill to be discussed in parliament.

ABE TRIBUTE

Shigenobu Tamura, a political analyst and former LDP staffer, said Abe’s assassination may have bolstered the ruling party’s support in “hotly contested districts”.

Other analysts said the exit poll was broadly in with pre-election surveys. Voter turnout was expected to rise to 51.58% from 48.8% at the last upper house election three years ago, Kyodo news agency estimated.

LDP candidate Kei Sato, whom Abe was stumping for in Nara when he was shot from close-range by a man with a homemade gun, paid tribute to his fallen colleague after the exit poll projected he would win his seat.

“Former Prime Minister Abe, who came to support me, was shot in an act of terrorism in the midst of our election campaign,” Sato said. “We continued our campaign in the belief that we must not cave into terrorism or fear it – we must overcome it.“

Nara police said on Sunday they had seized a motorcycle and a vehicle belonging to the murder suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami.

From the vehicle, police retrieved trays wrapped in aluminium foil that the suspect said he had used for drying gunpowder, and wooden boards with holes that he said he had used for test-firing his weapon, police said.

The suspect told police he spent months planning the attack, accusing the former prime minister of links to a religious group he blames for his mother’s financial ruin, according to Japanese media. Read full story

Police said the suspect told them he arrived at a station near the scene more than an hour before the attack and passed time by visiting shopping complexes.

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