Op­po­si­tion grills Abe over scan­dal

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By CAI HONG in Tokyo cai­hong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Crush­ing loss

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.

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