Japan’s longest-serving prime minister has died following a shooting while on the election trail on July 8.
Former PM Shinzo Abe, 67, was giving a speech ahead of elections for the parliament’s upper house in the western city of Nara near Osaka late on Friday morning (Japan time).
At around 11.30am, witnesses reported hearing gunshots and Abe immediately collapsed. He had been shot twice in the neck. He was taken to a nearby hospital but was confirmed dead four hours after the attack.
Shortly after the shooting, police arrested Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old man who had served in the Japanese Navy. Police confirmed he used a homemade gun in his attack and said the shooter targeted Abe as "he had a grudge against a specific group he believed [the former prime minister] was connected to." Japanese media later reported Yamagami believed Abe had links to a religious group that had ruined his mother financially.
Current prime minister Fumio Kishida called the act sudden and outrageous in a statement and said "upon hearing the sudden news of his death, I cannot hold back my grief".
"The despicable act that took the life of Mr. ABE Shinzo, carried out in the middle of an election, the very basis of democracy, is absolutely intolerable, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms."
Abe was in Nara, delivering a speech in support of a candidate running in the country's upcoming Upper House election when the shooting occurred. Despite stepping down from the top role in 2020, Abe has maintained close connections to Japan's domestic political scene: he has a long association with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and his younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, is Japan's current defense minister.
Leaders react to Abe's death
As news of his death broke, messages of support and condolences have been pouring in from around the world. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was "deeply shocked" to hear what happened and tweeted her support of Japan and of Abe's wife, Akie Abe.
However, Abe was a controversial figure in China and The Diplomat has noted that social media posts in the country in response to his death reflect an unpopular image.
South Korean president Yoon Seok-youl released a statement, saying "I send my condolences to the bereaved families and Japanese people who have lost the longest-serving prime minister and respected politician in Japan's constitutional history".
President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan had lost a close friend: “Taiwan and Japan are both democratic countries with the rule of law, and our government severely condemns violent and illegal acts.”
Joko Widodo tweeted that Abe’s contributions to Indonesia-Japan cooperation would always be remembered. “May the family of PM Abe and the Japanese people be given strength in this difficult time.”
Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah said Abe was an iconic leader who would always be remembered for his contributions to the economic development of Japan through "Abenomics”. He had also contributed to Malaysia’s “Look East” policy.
Abe served two terms as prime minister – from 2006-2007 and then again from 2012-2020. His second stint made him the longest-serving premier in Japan’s history.
Abe’s leadership marked the return of a more confident Japan, a respected leader in regional diplomacy. In an earlier piece for the AMC, international relations professor David Capie wrote on Abe’s leadership after he stepped down from office. His two terms as prime minister were marked by a deep interest in US-Japan ties alongside a pragmatic approach with Beijing.
He also wrote that “perhaps Abe’s greatest accomplishment was his role in saving the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” The US walked away from the deal in 2017 and ultimately, Abe pressed ahead to help forge the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
He also became well known for his economic policy known as "Abenomics", which he launched in 2013. In its early form, Abenomics was based on three “arrows” — aggressive monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform.
- Asia Media Centre