Japan has lost its most important political leader in decades in tragic circumstances. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, key to understanding Japanese politics in this century, died yesterday in a hospital from gunshots received during an election rally in the city of Nara, in the center of the country. The attack left dismayed the society and political class of the third largest economy on the planet, where the levels of violence are minimal and recent attacks against public figures happen by the dropper.
"I'm so sorry. I have no words, ”said the current prime minister, Fumio Kishido, who had the endorsement of Abe to take over the position at the end of last year, when announcing the news. "We have lost a great politician who achieved many achievements in various fields for love of the country and was always one step ahead of the times," he added, visibly moved.
Abe, a 67-year-old Conservative, was the longest-serving prime minister in recent history in a country accustomed to seeing new leaders parade to the front with unusual lightness. Although he had retired from office in 2020 due to health problems, the former president, who carried politics in his blood, continued to lead the main faction of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), the formation that has dominated Japanese political life. since the end of World War II. Since then, his activity has led him to participate in numerous forums and interviews or in rallies such as the one that his party organized yesterday in the vicinity of a train station ahead of the partial elections that are held this Sunday for the Upper House. .
There, shortly after he spoke at around 11:30 local time (4:30 a.m., Spanish peninsular time), the shots were heard before the former leader fell to the ground with a bloody chest. "There was a loud bang and then smoke was seen," businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who witnessed the events, told Reuters. “With the first shot, no one knew what was happening, but after the second shot, what appeared to be special service police officers shot him (the attacker) down,” he added.
Abe was immediately airlifted to Kashihara hospital in cardiorespiratory arrest. According to the doctors who treated him, his body had two gunshot wounds to the neck and collarbone and his heart was affected. They tried to stop the bleeding and gave him several blood transfusions, but they could not revive him and he was pronounced dead at 5 pm (local time). "He was bleeding profusely and we have not been able to save his life," said one of the doctors present.
Japanese police later identified Yamagami Tetsuya, a 41-year-old unemployed man, as the suspected perpetrator of the assassination. According to Japanese Defense Ministry sources, this man, a native of Nara, worked in the naval branch of the Self-Defense Forces, the equivalent of the Armed Forces, for three years until 2005, and did not resist his arrest.
Although the authorities did not officially comment on his motives for the attack, local media report that he told the police that he was "dissatisfied" with Abe and that he intended to kill him despite not holding "a grudge against his political beliefs." They also pointed out that the agents discovered several more weapons during the search of his house and, according to the state channel NHK, bomb disposal technicians were preparing in case his intervention was necessary.
The attack, perpetrated in broad daylight and in front of television cameras, shocked one of the countries with the fewest victims from firearms, where it is rare to see a year in which bullets kill more than ten people between a population of 126 million inhabitants. Take the year 2021 as an example, when there were only ten incidents with this type of weapon – eight of them related to the local mafia, the Yakuza – in which there was one death and four injuries, according to the National Policy Agency.
This is due in large part to its policies of strict control over access to firearms, which are only common among police forces. If a Japanese citizen wants to buy one – mainly rifles and shotguns for sport or hunting – they must go through a cumbersome process that includes face-to-face classes, pass a written exam and complete a shooting range test, with a minimum accuracy of 95. %. Candidates also undergo a mental health evaluation at a hospital and extensive background checks by the government, examinations that must be repeated every three years.
Images broadcast on television showed the attacker wielding a weapon that appeared to be made up of two tubes wrapped in black duct tape, which is believed to have been homemade. "This really shows to what extent Japan's gun laws are working," said University of Tokyo law and society professor Daniel Foote, referring to the fact that the difficulty of accessing guns led to the killer. confessed to making the weapon himself.
This low level of danger has meant that electoral rallies in the country are usually held in the middle of the street, close to citizens and with few security measures, especially when compared to other countries with higher rates of violence such as the United States. After Abe's death, some voices have already emerged yesterday criticizing the laxity of the protocols, and the authorities announced their future review to avoid similar situations.
Whether stricter measures are taken or not, they will not prevent Abe's name from being added to the list of the most notorious assassinations in recent history, including that of US President John F. Kennedy (1963), Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme ( 1986) or his Israeli counterpart Isaac Rabin (1995). Even so, the country plans to go ahead with the elections this Sunday to elect half of the members of the Upper House, a day that will surely be dominated by the death of its most influential leader in recent years.