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Japan in turmoil: How two Attacks on Political Leaders Shook Everyone

These incidents have shocked the nation and the world, raising questions about the security of Japan's democracy, the motives of the attackers, and the impact of these events on Japan's domestic and foreign policy.

Photo by Philippe Yuan / Unsplash

By Bingtan, Writer of exclusive stories for World Future

Japan, a country known for its peace and stability, has been rocked by two violent attacks on its political leaders in less than a year. The first one claimed the life of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated by a gunman while giving a campaign speech in Nara on July 8, 2022. The second one targeted current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was evacuated unharmed after an apparent smoke bomb was thrown at him during a campaign event in Wakayama on April 15, 2023.

These incidents have shocked the nation and the world, raising questions about the security of Japan's democracy, the motives of the attackers, and the impact of these events on Japan's domestic and foreign policy.

The assassination of Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe was Japan's longest-serving prime minister, holding office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2013 to 2020. He resigned due to health reasons, but remained a prominent figure in Japanese politics and a member of the House of Representatives. He was widely respected for his leadership and diplomacy, especially his efforts to strengthen Japan's alliance with the United States and his role in hosting the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

On July 8, 2022, Abe was delivering a speech in support of a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate outside Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, when he was shot from behind at close range by a man with a homemade firearm. He was rushed to a hospital by helicopter, but died from excessive bleeding. The suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, was arrested at the scene and confessed to shooting Abe.

According to police, Yamagami said he had a grudge against the Unification Church (UC), a controversial religious group that has been accused of pressuring its followers to make exorbitant donations and interfering in politics. Yamagami claimed that his mother went bankrupt in 2002 after being coerced by the UC to donate her money and property. He also alleged that Abe and his family had ties with the UC and that he wanted to expose their corruption.

The assassination triggered an outcry from Japanese society and media, as well as condolences and condemnation from leaders around the world. It also sparked an investigation into the relationship between the UC and Japanese politicians, which revealed that several LDP members had received donations or support from UC-affiliated organizations. Prime Minister Kishida reshuffled his cabinet in August 2022 to distance himself from the scandal, but his approval ratings continued to plummet. In response to public pressure, the LDP announced in August 2022 that it would sever all ties with the UC and its associated groups, and expel any members who did not comply. In December 2022, the parliament passed two bills to restrict the activities of religious groups like the UC and provide relief to victims.

Abe's funeral was held on September 27, 2022, with state honors. He was mourned by millions of Japanese people and honored by foreign dignitaries as a visionary leader who contributed to Japan's prosperity and security.

The smoke bomb attack on Fumio Kishida

Is the Japanese political landscape becoming too violent or does the people want to show their disatisfaction with Japan's foreign policy with violence? Photo by Erik Eastman / Unsplash

Fumio Kishida became Japan's prime minister in October 2021 after winning the LDP leadership election following Yoshihide Suga's resignation. He faced several challenges during his tenure, including managing the Covid-19 pandemic, reviving the economy, dealing with China's rise and North Korea's nuclear threat, and preparing for the general election scheduled for April 24, 2023.

On April 15, 2023, Kishida was campaigning for his party in Wakayama City,
Wakayama Prefecture, when an apparent smoke bomb was thrown at him while he was giving a speech near a fishing harbor. He took cover as a loud explosion was heard and smoke filled the air. He was evacuated unharmed by his security staff. The suspect, 24-year-old Ryuji Kimura, was subdued by police and bystanders at the scene. He was found to be carrying a knife and another possible explosive device.

The motive for the attack is still unclear. Kimura has not given any coherent statement to the police or media. Some reports suggest that he may have been influenced by online conspiracy theories or extremist groups that oppose Kishida's

policies. Some analysts have suggested that he may have been inspired by the assassination of Abe or by online radicalization.

The smoke bomb attack has raised concerns about the security of Japan's political leaders and the safety of public events, especially as Japan prepares to host several meetings of the Group of Seven (G7) leaders and ministers in the coming weeks. Kishida has vowed to do everything possible to ensure security and safety for the G7 guests and the Japanese people.

The attack has also added uncertainty to Japan's political landscape ahead of the general election, which must be held by October 2025. Kishida's LDP has been struggling to regain public trust after the UC scandal and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the LDP's woes and present themselves as a viable alternative.

LDP Is Back

However, the LDP has shown signs of recovery in recent local elections, winning key governor races in Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Saitama, Aichi, Chiba and Oita on April 9. The LDP also secured more than half of the prefectural assembly seats being contested. These results have boosted Kishida's confidence and raised speculation that he may call a snap election to seek a fresh mandate from the voters.

Meanwhile, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), a right-wing populist party that advocates for decentralization and constitutional revision, has expanded its influence beyond its stronghold of Osaka, winning governor races in Wakayama and Nagasaki. The party has also increased its presence in several prefectural assemblies and mayors' offices. The party's leader, Nobuyuki Baba, has said that his party aims to become a "third force" in Japanese politics and challenge the LDP's dominance.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the largest opposition party, has suffered a setback in the local elections, losing governor races in Hokkaido and Shiga, where it had previously held power. The party has also failed to make significant gains in other areas. The party's leader, Kenta Izumi, has admitted that his party needs to improve its appeal and strategy to win over more voters.

The other opposition parties, such as the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), have also performed poorly in the local elections, failing to increase their representation or influence.

The local elections have revealed the strengths and weaknesses of Japan's political parties and set the stage for a fierce battle in the upcoming general election. The outcome of the election will determine Japan's future direction and role in a changing world.

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