On July 8, the world was shaken by the news of the assassination of the former Prime Minister and one of the most prominent political figures in post-war Japan, Shinzo Abe.
Abe was shot at the age of 67 whilst giving a speech on behalf of Councilor Kei Sato, a candidate for the Liberal Democratic Party. Around 11:30 a.m. Japan time, Abe was shot twice from behind with a homemade double-barreled shotgun.
His death was announced at 5:03 p.m.,
Abe became the first former Prime Minister of Japan to be assassinated since the murder of Saito Makoto and Takahashi Korekiyo on February 26, 1936, and the first Japanese congressman to be assassinated since Koki Ishii.
The Nara Prefectural Police arrested a 41-year-old man, Tetsuya Yamagami, on suspicion of attempted murder. He was described as “calm” and made no attempt to evade arrest.
Yamagami had no previous criminal record. He was a member of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force from 2002 to 2005, serving at the Kure Naval Base.
After his arrest, Yamagami told investigators that he “was dissatisfied with the former Prime Minister and intended to kill him.” The detainee also claimed that he was offended by “a certain religious group” and shot Abe because he believed that Abe and the religious group “were connected.”
Yamagami told police he had been planning the attack for months and had tracked Abe’s schedule during his visit to Nara on the politician’s website. During a search of Yamagami’s home, the authorities found several handguns.
Most of Japan’s political leaders canceled all pre-election events on July 8 following the assassination. The campaign resumed the next day, July 9, with leaders of the major parties vowing not to allow the atrocity to disrupt the democratic process.
“During this election period, a heinous and barbaric criminal act took the life of former Prime Minister Abe. It is unforgivable. We condemn this in the strongest possible terms,” current Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida said in his official statement on July 8.
Kishida emphasized that Japan will not pause the pre-election process and elections will take place on Sunday as planned.
“We must protect free and fair elections in the best way we can, as they are the cornerstone of democracy. We will carry on with the election campaign tomorrow as planned, with the firm belief that we are never going to succumb to violence,” Kishida stressed.
Abe served his country as Prime Minister longer than any of his predecessors. From 2003, he headed the Liberal Democratic Party – the most influential party in Japan. He soon became the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and by age 52 he took the Prime Minister’s office, becoming the youngest Prime Minister of Japan in almost 70 years.
His first term was short-lived, with a health condition forcing him to resign after only one year in office. Then, following several years of endless changes of government, he returned to office in 2012 and remained Prime Minister until 2020.
Abe’s main promise was to tackle Japan’s stagnant economy caused by a sharp devaluation of the national currency – the yen. His approach was based on a “three arrows” program, which he defined as: i) a termless increase in the liquidity of the economy; ii) stimulation of economic growth through the development of infrastructure projects combined with reconstruction of the country after natural disasters; and iii) implementation of reforms in the public sector that would contribute to the more effective attraction of investments. In the short term, his program performed well. Japan’s GDP began to grow rapidly, and economic problems were gradually overcome.
Abe also strengthened political and economic ties with the U.S. He managed to establish good relations with former U.S. President Donald Trump, which was largely based on a shared vision of the threat of China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
In addition, the politician is remembered for his attempts to peacefully settle the long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and Russia regarding the Kuril Islands, but this matter was never completed.
After resigning from the post of Prime Minister, Abe remained one of the most influential politicians in Japan and the leader of the faction of the ruling LDP.
Not only did he advocate full support for Ukraine and Taiwan, but he also initiated reform aimed at abandoning “pacifism” and building a powerful army capable of protecting not only Japan but the world.
Abe insisted on increasing spending from the country’s budget to strengthen the Japanese army. However, it this proved difficult due to weak public support for the idea of changing the constitution.
Abe was also often criticized for his allegedly nationalistic position, which irritated close neighbors Japan, South Korea and China. Furthermore, the propaganda of the People’s Republic of China systematically threatened Abe.
The leaders of Australia, India, and the U.S. — the member countries of the so-called “Quad” (a group of states united around their common vision of China’s threat) — were among the first to condemn Abe’s murder and offer condolences to the Japanese people. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called Abe’s death “a loss to the whole world.”
“He supported the union and the friendship between our people. His vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific will live on. But more than anything else, he cared about the people of Japan and dedicated his life to serving them,” U.S President Joe Biden said on the day of Abe’s assassination.
On July 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Abe’s wife and mother by sending them a letter, the text of which can be found on the Kremlin’s website.
“The hand of a criminal cut off the life of an outstanding statesman who headed the government of Japan for a long time and who did so much for the development of good-neighborly relations between our countries,” Putin noted.
Russian Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov also reported that the Kremlin was “deeply saddened” by the news from Japan, stating: “We strongly condemn the attempt on the former Prime Minister Mr. Abe. He always defended the interests of his country, but preferred to do so at the negotiating table. Because of this, he managed to build a reliable, working, constructive relationship with President Putin,” Peskov emphasized.
What next for Japan and implications for Ukraine
According to the results of an exit poll by NHK, on July 10 the LDP of Japan looked set to win a majority in elections to the upper house of parliament.
Prime Minister Kishida’s party and its junior coalition partner Komei’s party won more than half of the seats. They are expected to achieve between 69 and 83 representatives in the 125-seat chamber.
This outcome strengthens Kishida’s position and paves the way for a revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution, namely article nine declaring that Japan renounces the right to wage war and to establish its own armed forces.
Kishida may be wary of constitutional changes, but a possible victory frees him to increase Japan’s defense spending. Amid tensions with China, Russia, and North Korea, it was a key promise of his party during this campaign.
Moreover, according to the report by the Defense news portal from June 10, Kishida stated that Russia’s attack on Ukraine cannot be ignored as it is an attack on the very foundations of the international order
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