Abe de­nies fa­vors for long­time friend His sup­port has plunged be­low 30 per­cent due to sus­pected scan­dal

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, his rat­ings sink­ing over a sus­pected crony­ism scan­dal, on Mon­day said he had never in­structed of­fi­cials to give pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to a long­time friend, adding that the lat­ter had never sought fa­vors.

Abe and his aides have re­peat­edly de­nied in­ter­ven­ing to help Kake Gakuen, an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion whose di­rec­tor, Ko­taro Kake, is a friend of the prime min­is­ter, win ap­proval for a ve­teri­nary school in a spe­cial eco­nomic zone.

Abe’s sup­port has plunged be­low 30 per­cent in some opin­ion polls, hit by the sus­pected scan­dal and a per­cep­tion among many vot­ers that his ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing them for granted.

The slump is en­cour­ag­ing ri­vals and cast­ing doubt on Abe’s prospects of be­com­ing Ja­pan’s long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter by win­ning a third three-year term when his cur­rent ten­ure ends in Septem­ber 2018.

Abe told a spe­cial ses­sion of par­lia­ment’s lower house bud­get com­mit­tee that it was not sur­pris­ing the public had doubts, given that Kake had been his friend since they were stu­dents, but added that Kake had “never once” sought fa­vors.

“There was no re­quest or lob­by­ing re­gard­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of a new ve­teri­nary school,” Abe said.

Asked if he had in­ter­vened in the ap­proval process, Abe said: “I have never is­sued in­struc­tions re­gard­ing spe­cific cases.”

Abe also pledged to re­gain public trust by “pro­duc­ing re­sults”, giv­ing pri­or­ity to the econ­omy and diplo­macy.

elec­tion loss

Adding to the headaches for Abe, an op­po­si­tion-backed can­di­date on Sun­day won a mayoral elec­tion for the north­ern city of Sendai.

That fol­lows this month’s his­toric de­feat for the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party in elec­tions for the Tokyo as­sem­bly, a dev­as­tat­ing blow, since much of Abe’s clout stems from his record of stack­ing up poll vic­to­ries for the party.

A Mainichi news­pa­per poll pub­lished on Sun­day showed Abe’s sup­port slip­ping 10 points to 26 per­cent from a pre­vi­ous sur­vey in June. In ad­di­tion, 56 per­cent of re­spon­dents did not back Abe’s govern­ment, an in­crease of 12 points.

Abe, known to get ir­ri­tated at times when grilled, ad­mit­ted that pre­vi­ous ef­forts to al­lay public con­cern had fallen short. “I want to ac­cept this sin­cerely as the voice of the peo­ple,” he said of the rat­ings slump.

Abe’s aide, Hiroto Izumi, and for­mer top Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry of­fi­cial Ki­hei Maekawa, who has ac­cused the govern­ment of dis­tort­ing the ap­proval process for the ve­teri­nary school, clashed at the panel ses­sion.

Izumi de­nied Maekawa’s ac­count that he had im­plied in a con­ver­sa­tion with the lat­ter that Kake Gakuen’s new school should be ap­proved “be­cause the prime min­is­ter can­not say so him­self ”.

Op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers said they were un­con­vinced by Abe’s de­nials. “The peo­ple’s doubts are deep­en­ing,” Demo­cratic Party mem­ber Yuichiro Ta­maki told the panel.

The peo­ple’s doubts are deep­en­ing.” Yuichiro Ta­maki, Demo­cratic Party mem­ber, as op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers said they were un­con­vinced by Abe’s de­nials

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