Japan’s ruling coalition is expected to keep its majority in the upper house of parliament after an election held in the shadow of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which Abe remained an influential lawmaker, and its junior partner Komeito retained its majority, winning 76 of the 125 seats in the chamber that were contested, from 69 previously, according to an exit poll by public broadcaster NHK.
The LDP increased its haul from 55 seats to 63. In all, there are 248 seats in the upper house.
Analysts had predicted Abe’s assassination might boost the prospects of the LDP led by Kishida, an Abe protege.
Official results are expected on Monday.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving modern leader, was shot on Friday during a speech in support of a local candidate in the western city of Nara, a killing the political establishment condemned as an attack on democracy.
Elections for parliament’s less powerful upper house are typically seen as a referendum on the sitting government. Any change of government, however, is determined by polls for the lower house.
Commenting on the results so far, political science professor at Waseda University Airo Hino said: “Looking at this, it appears the LDP will be able to extend its seats and there will be enough seats won through the various parties to have the two-thirds majority needed to revise the constitution. It’s pretty much as expected but the incident two days ago may well have had an impact.”
“Now I think that with Kishida in power, debate over revising the constitution is likely to speed up,” added Hino.
Robert Ward, Japan chair at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed. “No surprises. Need to wait now to see whether the pro-constitutional reform parties have their two-thirds majority,” he said.
“I still think Kishida will move cautiously, even if they do. Change will require considerable political capital – witness the intensity of the 2015 legal changes initiated by Abe to expand the role of the Self Defense Force.
“On defence, the Liberal Democratic Party manifesto promised defence spending would rise to 2 percent or more of GDP. Clearly, he [Kishida] now has a green light for this, although questions remain over what they’ll be spending the money on, where the money will come from,” said Ward.
Abe served as Japan’s prime minister from December 2012 to September 2020, making him the country’s longest-serving prime minister.
Kishida had earlier abandoned the campaign trail and flew to the capital, Tokyo, by helicopter where in a quivering voice he condemned “a barbaric act during election campaigning, which is the foundation of democracy”.
Abe’s office on Sunday said a wake will be held on Monday night, with a funeral for family and close friends only on Tuesday. Local media said both were expected to be held at Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Asia for meetings, will stop in Tokyo on Monday to offer condolences in person, the State Department said.
Abe was the scion of a political family and became the country’s youngest post-war prime minister when he took power for the first time in 2006, aged 52.
His hawkish, nationalist views were divisive, particularly his desire to reform Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognise the country’s military, and he weathered a series of scandals, including allegations of cronyism.
But he was lauded by others for his economic strategy, dubbed “Abenomics”, and his efforts to put Japan firmly on the world stage, including by cultivating close ties with former US President Donald Trump.