Japan’s ruling coalition sweeps upper house elections days after Shinzo Abe’s assassination

Japan’s ruling coalition swept to victory on Sunday in an upper house election that took on heightened significance following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe, 67, was shot on Friday in the city of Nara while delivering a speech in support of candidates from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a killing that has stunned a nation with one of the world’s lowest rates of gun crime.

The country’s leaders had urged the public to turn out and vote on Sunday, denouncing the killing as an attack on democracy.

“We must absolutely defend free and fair elections, which are the basis of democracy,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday, adding that the party would “proceed with our election campaign as planned with the firm conviction that we will never yield to violence.”

On Sunday, days ahead of Abe’s wake and funeral, the conservative LDP won at least 63 seats, more than half of the 125 seats up for grabs, according to the country’s public broadcaster NHK.

Vote counting is now complete, but official results have not yet been released by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

While the upper house is the less powerful of the Japanese parliament’s two chambers, the victory solidifies Kishida’s political base, and could help him push ahead with key policy issues including possibly revising Japan’s pacifist constitution, a cause Abe had championed during his nearly nine years in power and one that would require a two-thirds majority vote of both houses of parliament, followed by a popular referendum.

A few hours after polls closed on Sunday, Kishida told NHK, “The election has been at stake because of violence but we have to complete it. Now we’ve completed it, it’s quite meaningful, moving forward, we have to continue to work hard to protect democracy.”