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Japanese voters went to poll on Sunday as the parliamentary election continued under the shadow of the assassination of Shinzo Abe, the country’s longest-serving influential leader, after police acknowledged a possible security lapse.
Voters turned out in large numbers with 10.44 per cent casting votes till 11 a.m. (0200 GMT) - up from 9.7 per cent at the same point during the 2019 upper house election - the Ministry of Internal Affairs said.
Abe was campaigning for his Liberal Democratic party (LDP) on Friday in the run-up to upper house parliamentary elections on Sunday when he was shot in the western city of Nara.
The former minister was standing in a street at a close distance from people and members of media when he was shot, raising questions over the lapse in influential leader’s security.
On Saturday, Nara police chief Tomoaki Onizuka said admitted that there were flaws in the security of Abe.
“I believe it is undeniable that there were problems with the guarding and safety measures for former prime minister Abe,” said he said.
He pledged a “thorough investigation” into the killing. “In all the years since I became a police officer in 1995 ... there is no greater remorse, no bigger regret than this,” he said.
The election for the seats in Japan’s less-powerful upper house of parliament will strengthen the winning party’s grip on power amid issues of the Covid-19 pandemic, surging energy and food prices.
A big win for the LDP party - being predicted in opinion polls owing to the killing of the party leader - will strengthen the current prime minister administration’s ability to pass key policies.
As the nation mourned the shock killing of Abe, the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito are expected to gain a potential wave of sympathy votes as thousands of Japanese went to vote just two days after the killing.
“We just lost Mr Abe. I would like the LDP to win many votes so that they can run the country in a stable manner,” said Sakae Fujishiro, a 67-year-old pensioner who came to cast the vote in Tokyo’s eastern Edogawa ward.
James Brady of the Teneo consultancy said: “The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition was already on course for a solid victory A wave of sympathy votes now could boost the margin of victory.”
Security of Fumio Kishida was heightened in the last hours of campaigning when the prime minister appeared at a campaign event in a city southwest of Tokyo. A metal detection scanner was installed at the venue in an unusual security measure in Japan.
Opinion polls showed LDP gaining a 69 seat majority, a boost after polls last week showed the party taking 60 of the 125 seats being contested on Sunday. The party currently hold 55 seats in the upper house.
On Sunday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he would pay a brief visit to Japan to condole the death of Abe personally and meet senior Japanese ministers.
“The US-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and has never been stronger,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol is also expected to visit the Japanese embassy in Seoul to pay respects to Abe, Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday.
Additional reporting by agencies