TOKYO -- Sunday's vote was held in the shadows of Shinzo Abe's assassination. Party leaders were careful not to mix with the crowds, and instead spoke out about democracy and freedom of speech from the campaign day before.
Exit polls for Abe's party in the election for parliament's upper chamber showed Abe's party certain to win a major victory. This could be due to what is being seen as a wave sympathy votes in a country still reeling after Friday's brazen shooting.
Police in Japan also sent the assassin to an office of local prosecutors for further investigation. Top regional police officials acknowledged security flaws that allowed the attacker so close to the former Japanese leader and fired a bullet.
Exit polls conducted by NHK public broadcaster, and other media, showed that the Liberal Democratic Party, which is the ruling party, was certain to win a single majority (125 seats), or half the upper house, which is the weaker of the two chambers. This is a significant boost for Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida, who will continue to lead the country until a 2025 election.
Sunday's election took on a new meaning in the wake Abe's assassination. All political leaders stressed the importance of free speech, and pledged not to stop violence against democracy.
Also, security was stepped up. Party leaders did not engage in fist-bumps on Saturday's final day of campaigning. This COVID-19 alternative to handshakes was used by party leaders to avoid any close-proximity friendly gestures.
As party officials prepare to count votes inside, mourners visited the LDP headquarters in order to offer flowers and prayers for Abe.
Kishida stated that violence should not be used to silence free speech in his last rally in Niigata, the northern city. "We must show that democracy and elections will not tolerate violence," he said.
Abe was shot in Nara, Japan on Friday. He was airlifted to hospital but succumbed to blood loss. A former member of Japan’s navy was arrested by police on the spot and a homemade pistol confiscated. His apartment was later home to several others.
Abe's corpse was taken by Akie in a black hearse, accompanied by Akie's wife. He returned to Shibuya, Tokyo's most prestigious neighborhood, where many mourners paid their respects, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishhida and other top officials of the party. In the coming days, his wake and funeral will be held.
On Saturday, Nara's prefectural police chief Tomoaki Onizuka said Abe's assassination was his "greatest regret" during his 27-year career. He stated that security problems were not in doubt and that he was taking the incident seriously. He will also review security procedures.
Japan is well-known for its strict gun laws. According to the most recent government crime paper, there were only 21 gun-related criminal charges in Japan in 2020. Experts warn that recent attacks were involving gasoline and other consumer goods, which could increase the risk of ordinary citizens being involved in mass attacks.
Abe, who was the LDP's largest faction leader and still a powerful figure in the party even after his resignation as prime minister in 2020. Experts believe that his absence could alter the power balance of the ruling party, which has virtually ruled Japan postwar since 1955's foundation.
"This could prove to be a turning point for the LDP" over its divisive policies regarding gender equality, same-sex maritals, and other issues Abe-backed ultraconservatives with paternalistic values had resisted, stated Mitsuru Fukuda at Nihon University, a crisis management professor.
Because Abe has already made fundamental changes, Japan's current security and diplomatic stance will not change. Many saw him as a divisive figure because of his ultra-nationalist views, pragmatic policies, and even in China.
Abe quit two years ago, blaming the recurrence and severity of his ulcerative colitis. He admitted that he regretted not completing many of his goals, including the Japanese abduction by North Korea years ago, a territorial dispute between Russia and Japan, and a revision to Japan's war-renouncing Constitution, which many conservatives consider humiliating.
Abe was raised to follow the example of his grandfather, Nobusukekishi, who was also the former Prime Minister. His political rhetoric was often about making Japan a normal and beautiful nation, with a stronger military and security alliance with America and a bigger role in international affairs.
At 52 years old, he became Japan's youngest prime minster in 2006. His overly nationalistic first tenure ended abruptly in 2006, due to his health. He then began six years of leadership changes.
In 2012, he returned to power, promising to revive the country and lift its economy from its current deflationary slump. His "Abenomics" formula of fiscal stimulus, monetary ease, and structural reforms, was his promise to do just that. He won six national elections, and he held a firm grip on power.