(Bloomberg) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — Japan’s longest-serving premier and a figure of enduring influence — was in grave condition after he was shot during a campaign event Friday, an attack that shocked a nation where political violence and guns are rare.
“I am hoping that Abe will survive,” current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement televised nationwide, adding that medical professionals were doing their best to save him. “For this to happen during an election, which is the foundation of democracy is unforgivable. I condemn it.”
Abe, 67, was unresponsive after being shot from about three meters (10 feet) behind while campaigning for Sunday’s upper house election in the western city of Nara, and taken to a hospital. Police arrested a 41-year-old local man who was a former member of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on suspicion of attempted murder, FNN reported, citing several government officials.
Two videos broadcast by broadcaster NHK showed what appeared to be smoke coming from behind Abe as he spoke and a man being tackled by security personnel on the street soon afterward. Two loud blasts could be heard in video from the scene, and NHK said the firearm was apparently handmade, citing an official involved in the investigation.
Abe was rushed to a hospital immediately and may have gone into cardiac arrest, Kyodo News said, citing local firefighters. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, NHK said.
Kishida said the reason for the attack was not yet known. He also said it was unclear whether the shooting would impact the timing of the election, which the LDP was expected to win easily. Early voting had already started.
“This comes as a grave shock,” Hiromichi Watanabe, a senior LDP member, said at the ruling party’s headquarters. “I can’t believe something like this would happen in Japan.”
Abe was shot at about 11:30 am and his current condition is unknown, chief government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno about 90 minutes after the shooting. Cabinet members who were campaigning have also been called back to Tokyo, Matsuno added.
Since current Kishida came to office, his former boss Abe had remained a prominent voice especially on security policy. Abe’s calls for a doubling of defense spending and revisions to the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution were seen by some as nudging Kishida to take a more robust stance.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on the sidelines of Group of 20 meetings in Bali that he was “deeply saddened and deeply concerned” by the reported shooting, adding that “our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the people of Japan.” US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel called Abe an “outstanding leader of Japan and unwavering ally of the United States.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the G-20 event’s host, expressed “our deepest sympathies, and our prayers, for the speedy recovery of the former prime minister” on behalf of the gathering of the world’s biggest economies.
The yen gained with US Treasuries after the news broke, as investors reflexively sought safe havens. Japan’s currency traded 0.4% higher at around 135.50 per dollar at noon Tokyo time. Nikkei 225 futures erased gains after news of Abe’s collapse.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, stepped down in August 2020 to undergo treatment for a chronic illness. Still, he remained politically influential pushing for more defense spending and warning China that any invasion of Taiwan would be disastrous for its economy.
Japan is a country with some of the strictest gun laws among leading economies and shootings are rare. But political violence still occurs from time to time: In 2007, Itcho Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, died after being shot twice by a member of an organized crime gang.
Abe’s record-setting run brought stability to Japan after a revolving door of six administrations, including a previous stint by where he served as leader. Abe helped Japan escape from a cycle of deflation, endured a Trump administration that questioned the nation’s only military alliance, and worked to improve ties with its biggest trading partner China, which were at their most hostile in decades when he took office.
Abe also devoted energy to trying to resolve a World War II territorial dispute with Russia, which has simmered for seven decades, lavishing hospitality on Vladimir Putin, in a policy that was reversed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Political Killings, Attacks in Japan Since World War II: Table
Abe is perhaps best known for his plans to revive Japan’s flagging economy through unprecedented monetary easing and regulatory reform that was eventually labeled “Abenomics.” He has been seen as a steady hand who has consolidated power during his record run and been able to overcome scandals , including one that came to light in 2017 over questionable government land allocations for schools provided to associates of Abe and his wife Akie.
(Updates and recasts news conference.)