Despicable act of violence absolutely unforgivable / Serious flaws revealed in VIP security system

A former prime minister was gunned down during a speech. This is absolutely unforgivable. It was an utterly despicable and brutal act intended to suppress free speech by violence.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party was shot while giving a stump speech for the House of Councillors election in the city of Nara on Friday morning. He was rushed to a hospital but died.

The heinous crime occurred in the midst of the election campaign. For whatever reason, such an act, which is destructive of a free democratic system, must not be tolerated.

Abe was reportedly shot in the neck and other parts of his body from behind, shortly after taking the microphone during a street speech. He collapsed on the spot after the second shot.

Assault on democracy

Nearby police officers subdued a man at the scene. The police arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old unemployed man living in Nara, on the spot on suspicion of attempted murder.

Yamagami is believed to have held a grievance against Abe, but he was quoted as telling the police during questioning, “It’s not a grudge against Abe’s political beliefs.”

Yamagami is believed to have once served in the Maritime Self-Defense Force. The police authorities believe the gun was homemade, and several other guns were found at his home. They should endeavor to quickly uncover a motive.

Officers from the Nara prefectural police, a Metropolitan Police Department security officer and others were on guard at the scene. Hundreds of spectators and members of the press had crowded around to hear Abe’s speech. Why wasn’t it possible to prevent this horrific tragedy, which occurred in broad daylight in front of the public?

During campaigning for the 2019 upper house election, a man and a woman who jeered at Abe, then prime minister, were removed from the scene by Hokkaido prefectural police officers. However, the Sapporo District Court in March ordered the prefectural government to pay damages, ruling that this security measure was illegal.

Although there is room for review of the way VIPs should be protected, it is clear that the response this time was flawed because, among other things, no action was taken until the suspect easily came close to Abe and opened fire. The government should examine problems with the security system and disclose them to the public.

In the past, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather, was stabbed and seriously injured by a thug at the Prime Minister’s Office in 1960, just before he stepped down. In addition, there have been a number of incidents in which politicians were assaulted, but this is the first time since the end of World War II that a politician who has served as prime minister has been killed.

Swiftly clarify motive, background

The shooting of Abe made headlines overseas, too. Japan’s superb public safety is highly regarded internationally and Japan has been proud of it. Japan also successfully hosted the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics last year without any problems.

All these achievements have been fundamentally overturned by the latest incident. The security authorities bear a grave responsibility.

“[The attack] was a cowardly act conducted during a campaign period for an election and it is totally unacceptable,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

In response to the incident, the prime minister gathered all his ministers and discussed how to deal with it. It is essential to secure the safety of candidates and others involved in the upper house election and to hold the election smoothly. The government must take all possible measures to ensure that societal safety will never be shaken.

Combining his first term in office from 2006 to 2007 and his second and subsequent ones from 2012 to 2020, Abe held power for 3,188 days in total, the longest tenure for a prime minister in the history of Japan’s constitutional politics.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which held power for most of the intervening period, was criticized for “politics characterized by indecision” due to its constant infighting. Abe had a remarkable achievement in stabilizing politics.

During his second period in office, he worked hard to put the country’s economy on a recovery track, proclaiming his Abenomics economic policy package, with bold monetary easing and aggressive fiscal stimulus as pillars, among other measures.

It is commendable that Abe changed the interpretation of the Constitution and strengthened the Japan-U.S. alliance by establishing security-related legislation that allows limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense. He also built good relationships with leaders of other countries.

In September 2020, Abe resigned, citing his deteriorating health, but in November last year, he became chairman of the Abe faction, the largest faction in the LDP, and had strong influence.

Hold upper house poll smoothly

As a leading conservative voice, Abe recently advised the government to bolster the country’s defense capabilities, among other suggestions. He was a powerful figure in the LDP and traveled around the country to give support to candidates during the upper house election campaign.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said, “We firmly condemn this act of violence, which attempted to stifle speech.” The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan issued a statement, saying, “We strongly reject violence and firmly protect freedom of speech.”

Voting for the upper house election will be held tomorrow. This election is an important one in which each party will be tested on how to cope with the drastically changing international situation and rising prices.

Local election administration commissions across the country should take all possible measures to carry out the election.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 9, 2022)