Upper House election campaigns came to a halt in Japan on July 8 as politicians on all sides prayed for the recovery of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot dead in Nara.
Politicians denounced the shooting as an attack on democracy, and many returned to Tokyo after the election campaign to craft a response to the violence or lend a hand to Abe’s office.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was in Sagae, Yamagata Prefecture on July 8 to assist a rookie candidate from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Yamagata Prefectural District.
Around noon, about half an hour after the shooting, Kishida appeared in front of supporters and gave a 10-minute speech as scheduled.
Kishida was scheduled to go to JR Koriyama Station in Fukushima Prefecture to deliver a stump speech starting at 2:30 p.m. But the rally was canceled.
Just after 1 p.m. in Koriyama, a LDP prefectural assembly member informed supporters of the last-minute cancellation.
“Former Prime Minister Abe was reportedly shot dead in Nara Prefecture, and Prime Minister Kishida must return to his office,” the MP said.
Kishida had flown by helicopter from Sagae to the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo.
At 2:46 p.m., Kishida, visibly shaken and holding back tears, appeared before the journalists. He said he would immediately summon all cabinet members to discuss how the government should handle the situation, including the timing of upper house elections.
Abe’s successor as prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, canceled a planned trip to Okinawa Prefecture where he was to deliver a speech on behalf of local LDP candidates.
LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi dropped plans to deliver a speech in support of an LDP candidate on July 8 in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture.
Takaichi had received strong support from Abe when she ran for LDP president last year.
Economy Minister Koichi Hagiuda, who held senior positions in the Abe administration, rushed to Abe’s office in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district after the shooting and held a 10-minute meeting with Abe’s staff members.
“I told them that all Cabinet members have returned from the election campaign so that we can give them help if they need it,” Hagiuda told reporters.
Hiroyuki Arai, a former LDP upper house member who served in a senior position in the Abe administration, also visited Abe’s office in Tokyo.
“Violence is an abominable act,” Arai told reporters.
He said he was with Abe in Osaka the day before.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” Arai said hesitantly. “I’m just praying for his safety.”
Abe was due to travel from Nara to Kyoto to deliver a stump speech at the busy Shijo-Kawaramachi Crossing later on July 8.
LDP Upper House member Shoji Nishida showed up at the scene around 12:35 p.m. in a campaign vehicle decorated with a banner bearing Abe’s name.
“I’m praying for a miracle,” Nishida told the crowd. “I sincerely hope (Abe) survives and recovers.”
PRAYERS FROM OPPOSITION PARTIES
Senior officials from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan also canceled campaign activities on July 8.
“We need to work across party lines and respond to the incident to prevent this kind of thing from happening again,” said CDP leader Kenta Izumi.
“To keep political activities safe, I want to share this awareness with every other party and consider issuing a joint statement.”
Even Abe’s staunch critics strongly condemned the violence and prayed for the former prime minister’s recovery.
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, said in a video posted on his Twitter account that Abe had been the victim of “an act of barbarism”.
“The party and I are strictly against all violence,” she said.
Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) decided to suspend all campaign activities on July 8.
Party leader Ichiro Matsui said he spoke with Abe on the phone before the campaign began and they both wished each other luck.
“We belong to different parties, but we agreed on the idea of making Japan better,” Matsui said.
“Abe is someone Japan needs for the future,” he said. “I hope he recovers and recovers.”
Matsui said Nippon Ishin will resume campaign activities on July 9 to show that “violence cannot stop democracy, and we will never give in to violence.”
Other opposition leaders, including Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the People’s Democratic Party, and Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, expressed anger over the shooting and wished Abe’s recovery.
Tamaki said the DPP will suspend outdoor speeches on July 8 for security reasons.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who was a member of the LDP, prayed for Abe’s recovery during a press conference.
“I am shocked by the news,” she said in tears. “Whatever the reason, I simply cannot tolerate this act of barbarism.”
ASTONISHED BUSINESS LEADERS
Business leaders were also shocked and saddened by the news.
Kengo Sakurada, chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Business Executives), said he learned of the shooting during a meeting in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.
“An unconscionable thing happened as we were discussing the challenges Japan faces and its excellence,” Sakurada told reporters. “I’m in shock. I hope it’s a false report.
Takeshi Niinami, chairman of Suntory Holdings Ltd. who attended the meeting, condemned the attack and praised Abe for supporting the Japanese economy.
“I just hope he can continue to make Japan healthy and better,” Niinami said.