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Abe’s ruling coalition secures big election win in Japan after his killing

A memorial for former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Nara, Japan, close to where he was fatally shot. (Kosuke Okahara/Bloomberg News)

TOKYO — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, and its coalition partners have secured a two-thirds supermajority in the nation’s parliament, according to Sunday’s election results, a powerful showing that could allow the LDP to carry forward former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s biggest ambitions in the aftermath of his assassination.

The overwhelming victory could usher in at least three years of political stability for Kishida. It would clear the way for him to enact some of the party’s most controversial goals, including increasing defense spending and pursuing Abe’s long-running desire to amend Japan’s pacifist postwar constitution so that Japan can become a stronger global military power.

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“When they get ahold of these ‘golden three years’ the focus will be on what the Kishida administration will hammer out,” said Yu Uchiyama, Japanese politics professor at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “If the Kishida administration can come up with policies that appeal to the people, there is a strong possibility that the administration will last long-term.”

After Sunday’s election, the LDP, the Komeito party and their coalition partners who support the constitutional amendment will have 177 seats in Japan’s upper chamber, the House of Councillors, for a majority of about 71 percent. It was the LDP’s strongest showing since 2013. The LDP alone expanded its seats by eight. Elections are held for half of the upper house seats every three years, and the coalition already has a supermajority in Japan’s lower house.

A two-thirds supermajority is required for a constitutional revision, which the LDP said it would make a priority.

“The election, which is the foundation of democracy, was challenged by violence and it carries a big meaning that the election was carried through,” said Kishida, referring to Abe. “I will continue to work hard to protect democracy.”

“We want to further the debate on constitutional revision, so that we would be able to carry forward with the draft proposal” in the parliament, he said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK as votes were counted.

But Kishida faces domestic pressures: a plummeting yen, inflation and energy price hikes. He has yet to release details of a vague economic overhaul plan. Yet the LDP successfully messaged to voters that their woes were the result of external factors — such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine — rather than the LDP’s leadership flaws, experts said.

National security weighed heavily on Japanese voters’ minds, polls showed, along with the war, concerns over China’s threats to Taiwan and North Korea’s developing nuclear program.

Japanese voters went to the polls on July 10, two days after former prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated while on the campaign trail. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images/Reuters)

Sunday’s election took place as the nation reeled from Abe’s assassination. In Nara, where Abe was killed, a long line of supporters waited throughout the day to pay their respects. Before LDP officials counted their votes for the night, they spent a moment of silence in memory of Abe.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would make an unscheduled stop after his meetings with world leaders in Southeast Asia to pay respects to Abe. Blinken arrived in Tokyo on Monday morning local time. The State Department did not specify which officials Blinken will meet while he is in Tokyo.

Kei Sato, the Liberal Democratic Party politician from Nara for whom Abe was stumping on Friday when he was shot and killed, won reelection. He said he will pay respects to Abe at a wake on Monday and deliver the news of his victory.

The man accused of assassinating Abe on Friday, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami of Nara, told investigators he believed that Abe was linked to a religious group he blamed for his mother’s financial woes. Japanese media, citing police sources, subsequently reported that Yamagami told investigators that it was a religious group to which his mother donated money. Yamagami told investigators that his mother had become bankrupt after the donations, according to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, which cited police sources. He said his family fell apart because of his mother’s obsession with the group, and he targeted Abe “out of resentment,” the newspaper reported.

Japanese news reports said Yamagami had wanted to kill the leader of a religious group that investigators declined to name. He decided to target Abe instead, police said.

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On Sunday, a Tokyo-based representative of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, which in Japan was formerly named the Japan Unification Church, confirmed that the man’s mother is a member. The suspect’s mother remains a member but has not shown up to recent gatherings, said the representative, who was reached at the Tokyo office phone number but spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing privacy reasons amid the ongoing criminal investigation. Police have declined to name the religious organization cited by the suspect. And it was not known whether the mother belonged to other religious organizations.

The church representative contacted by The Washington Post on Sunday said that he did not have information about the mother’s donations, and that the organization is reviewing donations she may have made to the Nara branch. The Nara branch and the Nara police could not immediately be reached by phone on Sunday. The church official identified the suspect’s mother as Yoko Yamagami.

The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification is now controlled by the widow of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

The U.S. office of the Unification Church said in a statement Saturday that the group condemned the violence and that “guns have no place in our religious beliefs or practices.”

“The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (commonly known as the “Unification Church”) would like to express our shock and grief over the assassination of the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family in the wake of this tragedy,” the statement read.

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Abe, like many other world leaders including former president Donald Trump, appeared at Unification Church-related events as a paid speaker. Most recently, he spoke on a September 2021 program via video link.

The Unification Church is among many relatively new religions that are active in Japan. The organization’s members have provided a reliable base of staunchly conservative voters for the LDP, said Jeffrey J. Hall, an expert on nationalist activism at the Kanda University of International Studies.

“They’re not the only bloc of voters who are religious and conservative voting for the LDP, but they are one of them,” Hall said.

The LDP headquarters could not immediately be reached by phone on Sunday.

A police investigation is underway into the suspect’s motives, the homemade weapon he allegedly used, and the security protocols in place at the Nara event. But the church official’s confirmation Sunday that the suspect’s mother is a member added another piece to the puzzle that is coming together in the aftermath of Abe’s assassination.

John Hudson in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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