Abe’s party vows to carry out slain leader’s will after Japanese election win

Governing coalition sets sights on amending Japan’s pacifist constitution to strengthen military, faces uphill battle to convince moderate partners to support changes

Fumio Kishida, Japan's Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, speaks during a news conference after the results of the Upper House elections at the party headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, July 11, 2022. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Fumio Kishida, Japan's Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, speaks during a news conference after the results of the Upper House elections at the party headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, July 11, 2022. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO, Japan (AP) — Days after his assassination, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s party vowed to use its sizable victory in a parliamentary election to achieve his unfinished goals, including strengthening the military and revising the country’s pacifist, postwar constitution.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito secured a majority in the parliament’s upper house in elections Sunday that took on new meaning after Abe was shot to death while campaigning Friday in a crime that shook the nation. The result means Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could rule uninterrupted until a scheduled election in 2025 and allows him to work on long-term policies — but the constitutional amendment would still face an uphill battle.

Kishida welcomed the victory but also acknowledged the need to unify the party without Abe, who even after resigning as prime minister in 2020 remained a force in the party and national politics.

“Because we’ve lost a great leader, undeniably we could be affected in many ways,” Kishida said. “Our party must unite as we face difficult issues.”

He said the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and rising prices would be his priorities. But he also vowed to push for reinforcing Japan’s national security and amending the constitution, which only allows the country’s military to act in self-defense.

Abe and some of the country’s ultra-conservatives consider the document written by the US in the wake of World War II a humiliation and have long sought to turn the country’s Self Defense Force into a full-fledged military. But many in the public are more supportive of the document and see addressing the pandemic and the soaring cost of food, fuel, and childcare as more pressing.

Just two days after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, officials of the election administration committee open ballot boxes to count the votes for Japan’s upper house election in Tokyo, July 10, 2022. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP)

“We will inherit his will and tackle the issues he had to leave unachieved,” Kishida said.

To propose a constitutional amendment, both houses of parliament need to support it by a two-thirds majority. Sunday’s vote gave the LDP-led coalition and two opposition parties open to a charter revision that margin in the upper chamber of parliament. Alone the governing coalition now has 146 of the house’s 248 seats.

All four parties together control 179. That group of four parties also has the necessary seats in the more powerful lower house.

But it’s far from clear sailing: Komeito, the centrist party that forms part of the governing coalition, says changing the article in the constitution that puts constraints on the military is unnecessary. In addition, any amendment would need to secure a majority of support in a national referendum to pass.

Abe, who stepped down as prime minister two years ago, citing health reasons, said at the time he regretted leaving many of his goals unfinished, including revising the constitution.

On Monday evening, a wake was held for Abe at a Buddhist temple in downtown Tokyo where Kishida and top former and current political leaders, as well as ordinary mourners, paid tribute. Some broke down in tears.

A woman writes her name and a message after laying a bouquet of flowers at a designated stand set up for assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Liberal Democratic Party’s headquarters, Tokyo, July 11, 2022. (AP/Hiro Komae)

A funeral is planned at the temple Tuesday by his family. The government is expected to hold a separate memorial service at a later date.

Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kishida to offer condolences and deliver 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.”

Japan’s longest-serving political leader, Abe was the grandson of another prime minister and became the country’s youngest leader in 2006, at age 52. That stint in office abruptly ended a year later, also because of his health.

He returned to the premiership in 2012, vowing to revitalize the nation and get its economy out of its deflationary doldrums with his “Abenomics” formula, which combines fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, and structural reforms. He won six national elections and built a rock-solid grip on power.

In this image from a video, Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a campaign speech in Nara, western Japan shortly before he was shot on July 8, 2022. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

On Sunday, the suspect accused of his murder was transferred to a local prosecutors’ office for further investigation.

Police said the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he acted because of Abe’s rumored connection to an organization that he resented. Some Japanese media identified the group as South Korea’s Unification Church and reported that the suspect’s mother donated large amounts of money to the church. They suggested that the donations and her subsequent bankruptcy were possible motives.

The Japan branch of the church acknowledged Monday that the suspect’s mother was a member, but denied that it demanded large donations from anyone.

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the church, declined comment on the specifics of donations, saying a police investigation was ongoing. Speaking in generalities, he confirmed some people had made generous donations, but stressed none were forced.

Tanaka said Abe was not a member though he supported its global peace movement.

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