Candidates made their final calls across Japan for the House of Councilors election on Saturday, as the country reels from the death of Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister who was shot dead during a speech. campaign the day before.
Under tight security, top political leaders from all parties have signaled their determination not to succumb to any acts of violence aimed at suppressing free speech, rallying support from voters heading to the polls on Sunday.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot and killed during his stump speech in Nara, western Japan. The shooting sent shockwaves through the Liberal Democratic Party, to which he belonged, political circles, business leaders and ordinary citizens on Friday, as 18 days of campaigning drew to a close.
Police officers stand guard at an area where stump speeches are scheduled in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture on July 9, 2022, for the July 10 House of Councilors election. (Kyodo)
The triennial election is an opportunity for voters to deliver their verdict on the performance of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has pledged to take steps to soften the blow of rising prices and strengthen the country’s defense amid of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, delivers a stump speech in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture on July 9, 2022, for the July 10 House of Councilors election. (Kyodo)
“We will never give in to violence. I will stand before you until the very end (of this campaign),” Kishida said in Yamanashi prefecture near Tokyo.
Kishida, who is the leader of the LDP, stood atop a campaign car as he delivered his speech to supporters about five meters away. He ditched the usual fist bumps with voters and only waved his hands.
The Prime Minister strongly condemned the shooting as a “barbaric act” which challenged “the foundation of democracy, but said Sunday’s election should be held as scheduled to ensure freedom and fairness”.
In the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, Kenta Izumi, who leads the main opposition Democratic Constitutional Party of Japan, also spoke to voters as he was accompanied by more police than before the Abe’s death.
“This should never have happened. We should not give in to terrorism,” Izumi said.
A total of 125 seats are up for election – almost half of the 248 members of the upper house and one to fill a vacancy in the other undisputed half. The chamber had 245 seats, and three were newly added as part of the reform of the electoral system.
Abe was a member of the most powerful House of Representatives.
Kishida has set a goal for the coalition of the PLD and its junior partner the Komeito to retain a majority in the entire upper house, including the uncontested ones.
Threats to democracy and the rule of law are apparently on the minds of voters after Russia invaded Ukraine. Kishida’s government condemned the war as a unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force that undermines the foundations of the international order.
People listen to a politician make a stump speech in Kawasaki in Kanagawa prefecture, eastern Japan, July 9, 2022, for the July 10 House of Councilors election. (Kyodo)
Inflation is also a hot issue.
Kishida blamed it on the war, while the CDPJ called the upward price trend “Kishida’s inflation”.
There are fears that rising energy and food prices could dampen consumer confidence at a time when the world’s third-largest economy has yet to fully recover from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A weak yen, a byproduct of bold monetary easing by the Bank of Japan, also inflated import costs for resource-poor Japan.
“Mr. Abe was right to seek to revive the economy with his ‘Abenomics,'” said Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo. “We will continue to move forward on this path.”
The Abenomics economic stimulus package involved a mix of monetary easing and fiscal stimulus from the BOJ.
During the campaign, the LDP is also pushing for increased defense spending to fundamentally strengthen its defense posture against threats from its neighbors, including assertive China, nuclear-armed North Korea, and China. Russia.
The ruling party has in mind an increase in defense spending to a level equivalent to 2% or more of Japan’s gross domestic product, although the Komeito and major opposition parties like the CDPJ say its substance, not its size, should come first.
A key barometer to watch is whether pro-amendment forces can retain the two-thirds majority needed to launch any proposal to amend the Constitution for the first time, a LDP goal pushed by Abe and maintained by Kishida. .
The Japan Innovation Party aims to become the largest opposition party after Sunday’s election by expanding its support base beyond its stronghold in Japan’s western Kansai region in central Osaka.
The other opposition parties, including the People’s Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, also sought to woo voters until the last minute of the campaign.
Japanese lawmakers and business leaders mourn the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Abe
FOCUS: Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister Abe was known for his hawkish security stance
Abe’s shooter originally planned to attack the leader of a religious group