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Editorial: Japan needs rules to protect election campaigners after attack on PM

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, foreground, leaves a venue under heavy security after giving an election campaign speech in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, on April 15, 2023. (Mainichi/Natsuki Nishi)

Japan's National Police Agency (NPA) has released a report on the security situation surrounding an April 15 incident in which a man hurled an explosive device near Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a venue where he was preparing to give a stump speech ahead of a Diet by-election.

    The incident took place at a fishing port in the western Japan city of Wakayama. While the prime minister evacuated immediately and was not hurt, two people including an audience member sustained minor injuries. A man from Hyogo Prefecture was arrested on the spot in connection with the attack.

    How can we prevent further acts of violence that attempt to suppress free speech and threaten elections, the basis of democracy? We must seriously consider the lessons drawn.

    The report pointed out flaws in Wakayama Prefectural Police's security plans, as they lacked effective measures to ensure the safety of the prime minister and others.

    The security plans were formulated on the premise that the audience of the stump speech would be limited to those associated with the local fisheries cooperative and their relatives. While the scenario was based on explanations by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Wakayama prefectural chapter and the fisheries cooperative, we must conclude police were naive.

    Anyone entering and leaving the speech venue only needed to pass facial checks by fisheries cooperative staffers. There were no uniform baggage checks, nor did officials install a metal detector at the site.

    The NPA's preliminary reviews were also insufficient. The agency stopped short of pointing out the flaws in the security plans in a concrete manner.

    A fragment believed to be part of the explosive device was found lodged in a container about 60 meters away from where the explosion took place. This could have caused tremendous damage.

    In July last year, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot during a campaign speech for an LDP candidate running in the House of Councillors election.

    It is a serious state of affairs that election addresses have been targeted one after the other.

    It is difficult to provide security during elections. Politicians deliver speeches at various locations, and they often interact with voters in person.

    There are limits to what police alone can do in responding to these situations. Whether the safety measures requested or advised by police are implemented is left up to politicians and political parties.

    The NPA report outlined a policy for police to call for greater efforts to ensure safety. Specifically, they will encourage organizers to set up speech venues indoors if possible. If stump speeches are to take place outdoors, police will explain that it is desirable for politicians to avoid exchanging fist bumps with voters.

    It is said that in elections, candidates can only earn as many votes as the number of voters they have shaken hands with. If the prime minister or other Cabinet members are targeted in attacks, it will affect national politics. Voters who have gathered to listen to their speeches could also suffer collateral damage. Politicians must change their awareness about their public speeches.

    It is time for politicians and police to promote rule-making for the protection of election campaigners while gaining public understanding.

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