Hoor Asrar describes a political assassination of Tragedy in Japan
Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the country’s longest-serving leader, was shot dead at a campaign event. Abe, 67, was delivering a stump speech with security present but spectators were able to approach him fairly easily. It was the first assassination of a sitting or former Japanese premier since the days of prewar militarism in the 1930s. The attack had taken place shortly before noon in the country’s western region of Nara and the suspect opened fire on Abe from behind with an apparently homemade gun as he spoke at a drab traffic island in the western city of Nara. Abe was only minutes into his speech and had just raised his fist to make a point of Tragedy in Japan when he stumbled and fell after two shots were fired from behind him at close range.
Footage broadcast showed Abe standing on a stage when a loud blast was heard with smoke visible in the air. Seconds later, men thought to be members of Japan’s secret service tackled a suspect to the ground in a dramatic intervention caught on video. Abe was airlifted to a hospital for emergency treatment but was not breathing and his heart had stopped. He was pronounced dead after emergency treatment that included massive blood transfusions, hospital officials said. The suspect, identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, told police that he was dissatisfied with Abe and wanted to kill him. Several media outlets described 41-year-old Yamagami as a former member of the Maritime Self-Defence Force, the country’s navy.
The psychological fallout from an assassination by a gunman in a country where gun crime is almost unheard of is hard to gauge at this early stage. But Abe’s death, coming at the end of an election campaign, will almost certainly prompt a rethink of the tradition of bringing politicians into close contact with voters. Japan has some of the world’s toughest gun-control laws, and annual deaths from firearms in the country of 125 million people are regularly in single figures. Getting a gun licence is a long and complicated process even for Japanese citizens, who must first get a recommendation from a shooting association and then undergo strict police checks.
It was mentioned that the last similar incident was likely the 1960 assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Japan Socialist Party, who was stabbed by a right-wing youth. Several Japanese prime ministers were assassinated in the prewar era, but Abe is the first sitting or former premier to have been killed since the days of militarism. There have been other politically motivated killings in more recent times, however. In 2007 the mayor of Nagasaki, Iccho Ito, was shot dead by a member of a yakuza crime syndicate.
Shinzo Abe smashed records as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, championing ambitious economic reform and forging key diplomatic relationships while weathering scandals. Abe was a sprightly 52 when he first became prime minister in 2006, the youngest person to occupy the job in the post-war era. He was a hawkish conservative who pushed for the revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution to recognise the country’s military and has stayed a prominent political figure even after his resignation. He was seen as a symbol of change and youth, but also brought the pedigree of a third-generation politician groomed from birth by an elite, conservative family. Abe’s first term was turbulent, plagued by scandals and discord, and capped by an abrupt resignation. After initially suggesting he was stepping down for political reasons, he acknowledged he was suffering an ailment later diagnosed as ulcerative colitis.
The debilitating bowel condition necessitated months of treatment but was, Abe said, eventually overcome with the help of new medication. He ran again, and Japan’s revolving prime ministerial door brought him back to office in 2012. It ended a turbulent period in which prime ministers changed sometimes at the rate of one a year. With Japan still staggering from the effects of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and a brief opposition government lashed for flip-flopping and incompetence, Abe offered a seemingly safe pair of hands. Abe was a divisive leader, adored by conservatives who had tired of decades of official soul-searching over Japan’s wartime conduct, but loathed by progressives who watched on with horror as he used his party’s comfortable majority in parliament to loosen some of the legal shackles on the country’s military, known as the self-defence forces.
And he had a plan: Abenomics. The scheme to revive Japan’s economy — the world’s third-biggest, but more than two decades into stagnation — involved vast government spending, massive monetary easing, and cutting red tape. Abe also sought to boost the country’s flagging birth rate by making workplaces friendlier to parents, particularly mothers. He pushed through controversial consumption tax hikes to help finance nurseries and plug gaps in Japan’s overstretched social security system. While there was some progress with reform, the economy’s bigger structural problems remained. Deflation proved stubborn and the economy was in recession even before the coronavirus struck in 2020. Abe’s star waned further during the pandemic, with his approach criticised as confused and slow, driving his approval ratings down to some of the lowest of his tenure.
On the international stage, Abe took a hard line on North Korea, but sought a peacemaker role between the United States and Iran. He prioritised a close personal relationship with Donald Trump in a bid to protect Japan’s key alliance from the then-US president’s “America First” mantra, and tried to mend ties with Russia and China. But the results were mixed: Trump remained eager to force Japan to pay more for US troops stationed in the country, a deal with Russia on disputed northern islands stayed elusive, and a plan to invite Xi Jinping for a state visit fell by the wayside.
Abe also pursued a hard line with South Korea over unresolved wartime disputes and continued to float plans to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution. Throughout his tenure, he weathered political storms including cronyism allegations that dented approval ratings but did little to affect his power, in part thanks to the weakness of the opposition. Abe had been due to stay on until late 2021, giving him an opportunity to see out one final event in his historic tenure — the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games. But in a shock announcement, he stepped down in August 2020, with a recurrence of ulcerative colitis ending his second term too.
Abe represented a conservative Japan, downplaying Japan’s wartime atrocities. In a speech in 2015, when Japan marked 70 years since its defeat in World War II, Abe expressed “profound grief” for war victims, but stopped short of apologising. Abe also sought to revise the pacifist constitution that he believed was imposed on Japan in 1946 by the US. However, Abe was never able to realise his lifelong dream of reforms. His supporters regarded him as a pragmatic leader who strengthened Japan’s economy and partnership with the US “so that Japan would never be relegated to a second-class nation” — as he once said. Abe sought to relax monetary policy and pursue high government spending, and struck major trade agreements with the European Union and the Pacific Rim countries. During his tenure, Japan opened up to foreign workers, investors and tourists as never before, and proved that a developed economy can grow despite a shrinking population. TW