Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida looked set to consolidate authority within his ruling party after a strong election result virtually ensured him three more years as premier, even as the party mourned the killing of leading power broker Shinzo Abe.
The ruling conservative coalition, led by Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), extended its majority in the upper house of parliament just two days after Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister before resigning in 2020, was gunned down while giving a campaign speech.
The crime stunned a nation where gun violence is extremely rare, setting off a wave of mourning that included a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Monday to offer condolences on behalf of President Joe Biden.
“I shared with our Japanese colleagues the sense of loss, the sense of shock that we all feel – connected people feel – at this horrific tragedy,” he said at the end of the brief stopover, which included a meeting with Kishida.
“But mostly, I came at the president’s behest because more than allies, we’re friends. And when a friend is hurting, other friends show up.”
The LDP and its junior partner Komeito won 76 of the 125 seats contested in the chamber, up from 69 previously. The LDP alone won 63 seats, up from 55, to win a majority of the contested seats, though it fell short of a simple majority on its own.
With no elections set for another three years, Kishida has gained unusually large breathing space to attempt to implement an ambitious agenda that includes expanding defence spending and revising Japan’s pacifist constitution – a long-held dream of Abe’s before ill health led to his resignation in 2020.
Abe led the largest faction within the LDP, and analysts said his death could lead to potential turmoil within the party that might challenge Kishida’s control.
Asked about constitutional revision on Sunday evening, Kishida said he would focus on putting together a bill to be discussed in parliament. He is set to hold a news conference at 2:00 p.m. local (0500 GMT) on Monday.
What would normally have been a celebratory mood at LDP headquarters on Sunday night turned sombre. A moment of silence for Abe was offered in his memory, and Kishida’s face remained grim as he pinned rosettes next to winning candidates’ names on a board in a symbol of their victory.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Monday flags would be flown at half-mast for Abe, whose wake was set for Monday and his funeral for Tuesday.
As the nation grappled to come to terms with the killing, authorities continued their investigations into the suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene in Nara, western Japan.
The Nara prefectural police said on Monday the suspect had told them that on the morning of the day before the shooting he had test-fired the apparently home-made weapon used to attack Abe outside an unidentified organisation’s building in Nara prefecture.
The suspect told police he spent months planning the attack, accusing the former prime minister of links to a religious group he blames for his mother’s financial ruin, according to Japanese media.