The controversy over the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Shinzo Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. (Case)

Tokyo:

The state funeral of slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become a lightning rod for controversy, sparking protests and even a man apparently setting himself on fire.

But why has the September 27 funeral become such a hot topic?

How was Abe murdered?

Abe was shot dead on July 8 by a gunman in the Nara area while campaigning for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

His alleged killer reportedly resented the Unification Church because his mother had made large donations to the sect and believed Abe was connected to the group.

A private funeral for Abe was held in Tokyo, attended by friends and family. Thousands of people lined the nearby streets to offer prayers and flowers.

Why a state funeral?

Japan has held only one other national funeral for a former prime minister in the post-war period, that of Shigeru Yoshida in 1967.

But Abe was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister and the country’s best-known politician, both at home and abroad.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said a state funeral will allow international leaders to offer their condolences and show that “Japan will not give in to violence”.

The event is scheduled for September 27 at Budokan Stadium in Tokyo, with US Vice President Kamala Harris and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese among the expected leaders.

What was the reaction?

Controversy over the decision erupted quickly, with opposition politicians claiming Kishida was overstepping his powers by approving the funeral.

“He thought the cabinet had the right to decide what kind of events it organized,” Yoshinobu Yamamoto, professor emeritus of international politics at the University of Tokyo, told AFP.

“But there is no formal system in Japan that defines state funerals. So what the opposition is saying is that their government must seek parliamentary approval after debate.”

Polls showed growing opposition.

National broadcaster NHK found that 38% of respondents were against the plan in July, but by August that figure had risen to 57%.

Why do people oppose it?

Yamamoto says the funeral became controversial for two main reasons: “issues around Kishida’s decision-making…(and) issues around the Unification Church and its ties to the LDP.”

After Abe’s death, the LDP revealed that around half of its members had ties to the controversial sect, whose followers are sometimes nicknamed “Moonies” after the group’s founder, Sun Myung Moon.

Kishida swore the party would sever all ties, but the revelations and renewed church scrutiny dented his government’s popularity.

Abe was also far from universally popular in Japan, despite his record tenure.

His nationalistic views and persistent allegations that he was involved in cronyism engendered deep antipathy towards him.

“He is considered the sworn enemy” by some in Japan, said Kazuhisa Kawakami, professor of political psychology at Reitaku University.

“His state funeral is, in a way, being used by his political enemies as a weapon to galvanize their bases.”

Does cost play a role?

The funeral will cost around 1.7 billion yen ($12 million), according to the government.

This is far more than the initial figure of 250 million yen put forward by the government, which excluded security and accommodation costs for foreign dignitaries.

“It also didn’t give a good impression in terms of transparency,” Yamamoto said.

Kishida acknowledged the discontent over the funeral and answered questions during a special televised session of parliament, but polls show he did little to move the needle.

However, with invitations also sent out and security operations underway, “cancellation is not an option,” Yamamoto added.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)