Japan ruling bloc sweeps upper house election after Abe’s killing

Big wins for LDP and coalition partner will revive the effort to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution, a long-held goal of Shinzo Abe.

Fumio Kishida, Japan's Prime Minister and president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), speaks after placing a red paper rose on an LDP candidate's name, to indicate a victory in the upper house election, at the party's headquarters in Tokyo
Fumio Kishida, Japan's prime minister, speaks after placing a red paper rose on an LDP candidate's name, to indicate a victory in the upper house election, at the party's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, July 10, 2022 [Toru Hanai/Pool via Reuters]

Japan’s governing party and its coalition partner have scored a sweeping victory in an upper house election held in the wake of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 63 seats, or more than half of the 125 seats up for grabs in Sunday’s election, local media reported on Monday.

LDP’s coalition partner Komeito won 13 seats.

Their victory in Sunday’s vote means political forces supportive of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution – a long-held ambition of Abe – retain a two-third majority in the 248-member upper chamber.

The Kyodo news agency said the pro-constitutional amendment camp, which in addition to the LDP-Komeito coalition, includes the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, now has 179 seats.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, an Abe protege, said late on Sunday that he would push ahead with plans to amend the constitution, which was imposed on Japan by the United States after World War II.

The charter, passed in 1947, renounces “war as a sovereign right of the nation”, and Abe had long sought to amend that provision, pointing to what he called a “severe” security environment, including China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programme.

Kishida said that the ruling coalition “will deepen parliamentary debate over the constitution further so a concrete amendment proposal can be compiled”.

But he said addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising prices would be his priorities.

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

Kishida “now has a green light for this”, Ward told the Reuters news agency.

‘Extremely meaningful’

The strong outcome of Sunday’s election will also allow Kishida to consolidate his authority in the fractious LDP and ensures him three more years as prime minister.

Kishida called for party unity during his address at the LDP election headquarters and praised Japan for holding the elections, two days after Abe’s death.

“The election, which is the foundation of democracy, was challenged by violence,” he said. “It was extremely meaningful that we carried out the election.”

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and a dominant force in the LDP, was shot with a homemade gun on Friday while he was delivering a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. The killing shocked a country where violence is rare.

The suspect accused of Abe’s murder was transferred to a local prosecutors’ office for further investigation on Sunday, and a top regional police official acknowledged possible security lapses allowed the gunman to get close to the former prime minister.

The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumoured connection to an organization that he resented, police said. Some Japanese media identified the group as the Unification Church.

As Japan mourned Abe’s killing, the US’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken visited Tokyo on Monday to deliver condolences over the former leader’s death.

Blinken, who was in Indonesia for a Group of 20 foreign ministers meeting when Abe was shot, gave Kishida a letter from President Joe Biden to Abe’s family.

“We simply want them to know that we deeply feel the loss on the personal level as well,” Blinken told Kishida. “Mostly I’m here because the United States and Japan are more than allies – we are friends.”

Blinken said Abe “did more than anyone to elevate the relationship between the United States and Japan to new heights”.

His funeral is set for Tuesday.

Record wins for women

Some observers said Abe’s killing may have generated sympathy votes, with turnout at around 52 percent, up about three points from the previous 48.8 percent in 2019.

While Sunday’s poll brought LDP its best election outcome since 2013, Kyodo said the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, lost six of the seats it held before Sunday’s vote.

It now has 17 seats in the upper house.

Kenta Izumi, the CDP leader, told party leaders late on Sunday that he took the outcome as voters “not wanting to switch from the LDP and entrust us with running the government”.

He said he would not quit as party chief.

A record number of women also won seats in Sunday’s election, with some 35 of the 181 female candidates who contested the poll being elected to the upper house.

“The result reflects a slow but gradual change in the country’s male-dominated political landscape,” said Kyodo.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies