japan votes in upper house election under shadow of ex pm abes death - Japan votes in Upper House election under shadow of ex-PM Abe's death

TOKYO – Japan votes on Sunday (July 10) in an Upper House election that drew tepid interest until it took a shocking, emotional turn with the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe on the campaign trail.

While bread-and-butter issues such as inflation, an energy crisis and early signs of a seventh Covid-19 wave were initially on the election agenda, Mr Abe’s untimely death on Friday will likely galvanise more voters to cast their ballots.

Voter turnout was only 48.8 per cent in the last Upper House election, in 2019.

With a disjointed opposition, pundits have long expected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to make gains in the election.

Mr Abe, 67, was gunned down by Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, while delivering a stump speech in the western city of Nara. Yamagami had tapped his experience in the navy to fashion his own handmade gun, despite Japan’s strict gun laws.

He told investigators that the attack was not politically motivated, and that he targeted Mr Abe for his alleged links to a religious organisation that bankrupted Yamagami’s mother and wrecked the family.

Yamagami will likely be referred to prosecutors on Sunday morning.

Nara prefecture police chief Tomoaki Onizuka told reporters that he felt a “grave sense of responsibility” over the incident, adding: “We cannot deny that there were problems with the security plan given how things unfolded.”

In their final election-campaign speeches on Saturday, politicians of all stripes condemned the attack as an act of barbarism and an affront to democracy.

Mr Kishida said in his last campaign appearance in Niigata in the evening: “As Prime Minister, I feel the responsibility to uphold the legacy of former prime minister Abe and ensure the Upper House election can be held in a free, fair and safe manner to protect democracy.”

He was speaking in support of LDP candidate Kazuhiro Kobayashi, 49, who is trying to unseat three-term incumbent Yuko Mori, 66, of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, in what is seen as one of the tightest races.

Earlier on Saturday, a hearse carrying Mr Abe’s body arrived at his home in the Tomigaya neighbourhood in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward, from the Nara Medical University Hospital. His wife Akie accompanied his body in the car ride, a journey of about six hours.