Relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s are concerned the issue will receive little attention during the Upper House election campaign, with the focus largely on economic and social security issues.
“If it (campaigning) goes on like this, the abduction issue will be out of sight. Even if only for five minutes, I want candidates to talk about the issue in their speeches,” Shigeo Iizuka, the 78-year-old head of a group representing abductees’ families, said Thursday.
Official campaigning for the House of Councilors election began on Wednesday, and North Korea launched what are believed to be two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles from its east coast the same day.
North Korea agreed with the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May 2014 to reinvestigate the abductions. But with no progress made, Pyongyang said in February this year it will suspend the probe following Tokyo’s toughening of sanctions over its nuclear and missile test activities.
With North Korea showing no sign of compromise, Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted to North Korea in 1977 at age 13, continues to pin her hopes on efforts by Japanese politicians to resolve the issue.
“We will support candidates who will seriously work on the abduction issue,” the 80-year-old mother said.
Kenichi Ichikawa, 71, the older brother of Shuichi Ichikawa, who was abducted in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1978 when he was 23, sees the election as a golden opportunity to appeal to younger people, as it is the first national election since the country’s voting age was lowered to 18 from 20.
“When I go to speak, children concentrate on what I say. So I want candidates also to talk about it seriously to young people,” he said.
Iizuka, whose younger sister Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in 1978 at the age of 22, said, “If candidates don’t discuss the issue during the election campaign, I don’t think they are qualified to become (Diet) members because this is a matter the state is dealing with.”
Supporters of the abductees’ families have expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on the abduction issue under Abe’s government.
“I had hopes for Prime Minister Abe, but I’m disappointed that nothing has moved,” said a participant at a gathering organized by supporters on June 5. Another participant said, “Why is the minister in charge of the abduction issue serving in other ministerial posts at the same time?”
The government officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, but suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in many more disappearances.
The abduction issue has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic ties.