Exit Polls Suggest Japan’s Ruling Party Wins Legislative Election: NPR



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Exit polls point to victory for Japan’s ruling party in parliamentary elections that were overshadowed by the assassination two days ago of former prime minister Shinzo Abe. It’s no surprise that his party, which has ruled Japan for most of the past seven decades, is on course to win. But Abe’s death may have boosted voter turnout and shifted the focus of the election. NPR’s Anthony Kuhn is following the Seoul story and joining us now. Welcome, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what are the latest results?

KUHN: Well, based on exit polls, public broadcaster NHK predicts that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, and its coalition partner, the smaller Komei Party, will claim more than half of the 125 seats to be won in the upper house of Parliament. And voter turnout appears to be higher than the last upper house vote three years ago, but turnout was less than 50% then. I don’t think you can say people are super excited about this election. However, it looks like the ruling bloc will even retain its two-thirds majority, giving it a chance to change Japan’s constitution. The main purpose is to ease post-war constraints on the Japanese military and the country’s ability to wage war. And this issue was one of Shinzo Abe’s great unfinished projects, as well as one that the LDP pursued almost – for nearly seven decades.

RASCOE: What issues are voters focusing on in this election?

KUHN: This is the first election since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office about nine months ago, so it’s seen as a sort of referendum on his performance. A big thing on the minds of many voters is soaring inflation, especially food and energy prices. Now Japan has been plagued by deflation for decades. Abe tried to create inflation by printing a lot of money and doing a lot of government spending, and Abe’s successors mostly followed this policy. But the LDP’s grip on power has been so strong and the opposition parties have been so divided that many voters really feel like they don’t really have a choice. And this is one of the reasons for the low voter turnout.

RASCOE: Now, Abe’s assassination certainly brought attention to homeland security. Like, how’s it going?

KUHN: Well, we’ve heard a lot of news reports over the past few days about Japan’s low crime rate, its gun control laws, its low security campaign trail. But still, people are really shocked that a man with an improvised shotgun could, you know, sneak up on Abe from behind and shoot him not once, but twice without being spotted or arrested by the police or the bodyguards. The police chief in Nara town, where it happened, admitted security was poor. And he said he felt responsible, but he wouldn’t quit. Election security was enhanced with metal detectors and bag checks at Prime Minister Kishida’s campaign stops.

RASCOE: More details have come out on the alleged killer. What’s new on that front in the 30 seconds we have left?

KUHN: Well, the police found materials in the alleged killer’s house to make several guns, gunpowder and bombs. One really important thing is that police say it may have been linked to a religious group that the killer thought Abe was connected to. And there are a lot of conspiracy theories floating around and a lot of fingers pointed at foreign groups in Japan.

RASCOE: NPR’s Anthony Kuhn is joining us from Seoul. Thanks a lot.

KUHN: Thank you, Ayesha.

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