Photo/Illutration Voters listen to a gubernatorial candidate's campaign speech near Kintetsu Railway's Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara on March 23. (The Asahi Shimbun)

A bouquet of white chrysanthemums, laid on the asphalt, shook as if trembling in the cold spring rain. From time to time, people stopped in front of them and joined their hands in prayer.

The flowers were in front of Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara, where former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead last July.

On the other side of the train station, a candidate for the upcoming prefectural gubernatorial election--which campaigning kicked off for on March 23--was giving a speech with a microphone in hand.

A crowd of people stood around under plastic umbrellas and called out, “Ganbare” (Good luck). Also present were a few private security guards.

Official campaigning for the quadrennial unified local elections started on March 23. Nearly 1,000 elections will be held in local administrative entities across the nation.

With the downgrading of COVID-19 to a less-severe Category 5, the same as the seasonal flu, we should be seeing maskless candidates this time campaigning on diverse election issues. I look forward to lively debates.

The elections will also be nationwide for the first time since the Upper House election of last July. I remember that in the immediate aftermath of Abe’s assassination, metal detectors were installed at every campaign stop of high-profile politicians.

The extremely tight security made me worry about changes coming to Japan’s traditionally free election campaigning. I wonder if I was the only person who felt that way.

VIP protection is important and necessary, of course, but at the same time, I would prefer as low a communication barrier as possible between politicians and the voting public. I will never forget an incident in Sapporo during the Upper House election four years ago when police forcibly removed two people who heckled Abe while he was giving a campaign speech. 

Balancing freedom and safety is not easy, but ways must be sought. After all, democracy is a delicate system that requires constant maintenance.

I will compose myself and contemplate the destination of the ballot in my hand.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.