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(Bloomberg) -- Voters in Japan headed to the polls Sunday for an upper house election, reeling from the death of long-serving former premier Shinzo Abe who was fatally shot on the campaign trail two days earlier.
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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed not to bow to violence after the assassination of his former boss on Friday. He pressed ahead with the campaign and voting as planned, saying everything would be done to ensure security.
Ballot boxes opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., with major media set to publish exit polls as soon as voting ends. Half the seats in the less powerful upper house are contested every three years, with an extra vacant seat also up for grabs this time, for a total of 125 out of the 248-strong chamber.
As of 2 p.m., voter turnout was at 18.79%, up slightly from 18.02% in the last upper house election in 2019, according to Japan’s ministry of internal affairs.
Gun violence is rare in Japan. While the motive for the killing was unclear, sympathy votes could bolster Kishida, formerly a foreign minister under Abe. The premier is seeking a solid victory that could open the way for what’s been dubbed a “golden three years” in which he need not face another national election.
Media polling in the run-up to the vote showed the LDP and its junior coalition partner Komeito were likely to win more than the 56 seats that analysis showed are required to retain their upper house majority.
Kishida had been hoping to overcome growing public dissatisfaction over rising fuel and food prices and pull off a strong result, shoring up support among the factions in the long-ruling LDP. It’s unclear how the death of Abe -- the leader of the largest LDP faction -- will affect that calculus.
While inflation concerns have begun to erode backing for Kishida’s cabinet, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party has failed to capitalize on cost-of-living concerns to attract more voters, and is expected to lose some of its seats. The small, right-wing opposition Japan Innovation Party is forecast to gain seats.
Despite the worries, the LDP remains the party of choice for voters who have kept it in power almost continuously since its formation in 1955 and see it as being more capable of guiding the world’s third-largest economy than opposition groups.
Following the election, Kishida will face a raft of challenges, including finding ways to revive the lackluster economy and tackle inflation, as Covid-19 infections start to rise again.
He needs to pick a successor to Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who has steered the country’s ultra-easy monetary policy. Kishida also faces a tricky debate over his pledge to radically upgrade Japan’s military, with a commensurate increase in spending. Abe was one of the most outspoken proponents of a stronger military.
(Updates with latest voter turnout proportion in fourth paragraph.)
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