Opposition grills Abe over scandal
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has again denied intervening to help Kake Gakuen, an educational institution whose director Kotaro Kake is a longtime friend, win approval for a veterinary school in a special economic zone in Imabari City in western Japan.
Abe was grilled by opposition lawmakers at meetings of the two chambers of Japan’s parliament, or Diet, on Monday and Tuesday.
The scandal erupted after a whistleblower and former top Education Ministry bureaucrat, Kihei Maekawa, came forward to say that Abe’s office had significant influence over the school’s approval and distorted the decision. Education Ministry documents showed the alleged pressure for an early approval of Kake’s application came from the “top levels” of Abe’s office, Maekawa said.
The main opposition Democratic Party said Abe had dined out and played golf with his friend frequently during his second term as prime minister.
Kake has been seeking to open a vet school for a long time, but his application had been repeatedly denied by past administrations.
The hearings, broadcast live on TV, were held at the request of the opposition parties though the ordinary sessions of the Diet had ended on June 18. Abe had originally refused to attend the meetings, but changed his mind after seeing public approvals sink.
In recent months, Abe, his administration and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been ensnared in a string of scandals, causing the government’s approval ratings to nose-dive.
The administration had just 26 percent of support in the Mainichi Shimbun poll at the weekend — down 10 points from last month. Disapproval of the government rose to 56 percent.
Abe has rejected opposition calls to fire Defense Minister Tomomi Inada who was alleged to have covered up internal documents, including the daily activities and safety conditions of Japan’s Self-Defense Force during its United Nations peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
Japanese media reports have said officials had tried to hide the logs because they showed a worsening security situation in the African country. Japan ended its participation in the peacekeeping operation in May but said the withdrawal was not related to security concerns.
The tide has turned against the LDP as evidenced by its rows of defeat in local elections. In the aftermath of the LDP’s crushing loss in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election earlier this month, its candidate lost out to the opposition-backed candidate in an election on Sunday for mayor of the northeastern city of Sendai.
The losses may spell trouble to the Abe administration. Upcoming local elections in other areas like the race for Yokohama’s mayor on July 30 will be closely watched.
Abe is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet and the LDP’s leadership on Aug 3. Japan will have a general election in December 2018. But Abe might call a snap election later this year, according to Japanese media.