Japan’s crony­ism scan­dals: How much could they hurt Abe?

The Asian Age - - News+ - Richard Carter

Tokyo: Japan’s Prime Min­is­ter is bat­tling mul­ti­ple do­mes­tic scan­dals that have ham­mered his pop­u­lar­ity and led some to sug­gest he may step down as head of the world’s third- largest econ­omy. Here are some key ques­tions about the scan­dals that come just months be­fore Shinzo Abe seeks re- elec­tion as head of his party, which would clear the way for him to be­come Japan’s long­est- serv­ing pre­mier.

WHAT ARE THE SCAN­DALS?

Two crony­ism scan­dals, a cover- up, and a more re­cent sex­ual ha­rass­ment case in the fi­nance min­istry are mak­ing daily head­lines, putting Abe un­der un­fa­mil­iar pres­sure. The Op­po­si­tion al­leges Abe used his in­flu­ence to se­cure a bar­gain price for a plot of land so an ultra- na­tion­al­ist friend of his wife could build a kin­der­garten on the plot. This scan­dal deep­ened when it emerged that fi­nance min­istry of­fi­cials had erased ref­er­ences to Abe, his wife Akie and the min­is­ter in doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the sale. More re­cently, Abe is ac­cused of in­ter­ven­ing on be­half of an ally who wanted to open a vet­eri­nary school, af­ter an of­fi­cial doc­u­ment was un­cov­ered de­scrib­ing the school as “an is­sue that in­volves the Prime Min­is­ter”. His de­fence min­istry also is un­der fire over missing logs re­lated to the de­ploy­ment of peace­keep­ers in Iraq and South Su­dan. And in re­cent days, me­dia at­ten­tion has swung to an al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment case in­volv­ing the top bu­reau­crat in the fi­nance min­istry.

Abe de­nies any in­volve­ment in the crony­ism scan­dals and the fi­nance min­istry bu­reau­crat has de­nied sex­ual ha­rass­ment and threat­ened to sue the mag­a­zine that broke the story. Nev­er­the­less, the daily dose of po­lit­i­cal scan­dal has seen Abe’s pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings steadily de­clin­ing. Reg­u­lar anti- Abe ral­lies are also in­creas­ing in scope and fre­quency, with the lat­est demon­stra­tions draw­ing thou­sands onto the streets — an un­usu­ally large num­ber in Japan.

WILL ABE SUR­VIVE?

Ru­mours are swirling that Abe could step down be­fore he is due to stand for re- elec­tion as head of his party in Septem­ber, or even that he could call an­other snap elec­tion — only six months af­ter sweep­ing back to power. Op­po­si­tion to Abe and his right- wing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party ( LDP) re­mains ex­tremely weak and there is no ob­vi­ous can­di­date to re­place him. How­ever,

Two crony­ism scan­dals, a coverup, and a more re­cent sex­ual ha­rass­ment case in the fi­nance min­istry are mak­ing daily head­lines, putting Abe un­der un­fa­mil­iar pres­sure

◗ Abe de­nies any in­volve­ment in the crony­ism scan­dals and the fi­nance min­istry bu­reau­crat has de­nied sex­ual ha­rass­ment and threat­ened to sue the mag­a­zine that broke the story

some an­a­lysts be­lieve Abe could throw in the towel. “As pub­lic sup­port con­tin­ues to tum­ble amid the on­go­ing scan­dals, there is a grow­ing risk Abe will re­sign even be­fore the in­ter­nal Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party lead­er­ship elec­tion takes place in Septem­ber 2018,” said Chua Han Teng, head of Asia coun­try risk at BMI Re­search. Even if he does not re­sign, he may aban­don plans to seek a fur­ther term in the up­com­ing lead­er­ship elec­tion.”

WHAT HAP­PENS NEXT?

The next key date in Japan’s po­lit­i­cal cal­en­dar is the LDP elec­tion in early Septem­ber. Be­fore these scan­dals erupted, Abe seemed to be a shoo- in to be re­elected for a fresh three­year term, pav­ing the way for him to be Japan’s long­est- serv­ing pre­mier. How­ever, this now looks less clear, said Tet­suro Kato, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Hi­tot­sub­ashi Univer­sity in Tokyo. “It prob­a­bly will not be pos­si­ble for him to re­cover pub­lic sup­port like he did in the Oc­to­ber elec­tions,” Kato told AFP. “The pos­si­bil­ity of Abe get­ting re- elected as party leader for the third time is ( seem­ingly) dis­ap­pear­ing,” he added. Other an­a­lysts say Abe could step down be­fore the elec­tion rather than suf­fer the hu­mil­i­a­tion of be­ing jet­ti­soned by his own party.

WHO COULD TAKE OVER?

Two names of­ten men­tioned in the lo­cal me­dia are Shigeru Ishiba, who ran against Abe in the 2012 lead­er­ship elec­tion, and Shin­jiro Koizumi, son of the popular former PM Ju­nichiro Koizumi. Other names in the mix in­clude cur­rent foreign min­is­ter Taro Kono and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Taro Aso. How­ever, no clear can­di­date has yet come for­ward and sur­veys show Abe would still be a strong con­tender if he stands.

“The ques­tion is who, inside the rul­ing party LDP, will spear­head the move to stand up against Abe,” noted Kato.

— AFP

Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe ( left) and fi­nance min­is­ter Taro Aso at­tend an Up­per House Bud­get Com­mit­tee meet­ing on March 8.

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