Opinion / Cai Hong

Abe can do without more trouble coming his way

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2017-06-26 07:10

Abe can do without more trouble coming his way

FILE PHOTO : Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference after close of regular parliament session at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, June 19, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

At a press conference on June 19, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took the blame for the recent plunge in his government's popularity. Latest opinion polls show the Japanese government's approval ratings have nosedived.

The left-leaning newspaper Mainichi Shimbun said the Abe administration's popularity has fallen by 10 points to 36 percent, the biggest drop since he took office in December 2012. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun survey also showed that support for the Abe administration has dropped by 12 points from the previous month to 49 percent.

The Japanese government has dragged its feet on several scandals that have dogged Abe, his wife Akie and his Cabinet ministers for months.

In the first half of the Diet (parliament) session, which ended on June 18, opposition lawmakers grilled Abe almost daily for his alleged connection with the Osaka-based ultraconservative educational corporation Moritomo Gakuen, which had bought a plot of state land for less than 15 percent of its appraised value. Abe has denied that he, his wife or office was involved in the deal, but Yasunori Kagoike, former chairman of the organization, reportedly visited Tokyo on Wednesday to return the 1 million yen ($9,000) that he claimed to have received from Akie to the Abes.

The second half of the Diet session saw opposition lawmakers asking Abe whether he favored another educational organization Kake Gakuen owned by his close friend, Kotaro Kake. Documents from the Ministry of Education and the Cabinet show that officials close to Abe had pressured the ministry, in the name of the prime minister, to approve the opening of a veterinary medicine department at a university run by Kake, which entitled the university to get free land worth 3.68 billion yen in a National Strategic Special Zone and 9.6 billion yen in subsidies.

Worse, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which has two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament, took the outrageous steps of cutting short upper house deliberations, skipping a committee vote, and ramming the controversial anti-conspiracy bill through the upper house on June 15.

The anti-conspiracy law will allow law enforcement officers to arrest and prosecute people who plan a crime even if they do not carry it out. Covering 277 specific crimes, the law marks a major shift in Japan's criminal law system, which until now punished people for the crimes they committed, not planned.

The Abe administration's explanation: Japan is preparing to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and join a 2000 United Nations treaty against cross-border organized crime. But the public has questioned the law and is angry at the ruling coalition's heavy-handed approach. There are also concerns that the law might be used to justify widespread surveillance of activist groups, including labor unions and political parties.

LDP lawmaker Mayuko Toyota was forced to resign on Thursday when news about her physical and verbal attack on one of her secretaries on May 20 was published. As such, the LDP can't afford more scandals to further rock its boat.

The humility shown by Abe on June 19 may be an attempt at damage control, because he needs the support of Japanese people to push through the amendments to the Constitution. But it may already be too late, as the campaign for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election started on Friday and ballots will be cast on July 2. Given its falling approval ratings, the LDP is expected to face a tough battle with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike's new party. In fact, the Tokyo election could be a precursor to the general elections at the end of next year.

To get to the bottom of the Kake Gakuen case, four major opposition parties demanded on Thursday that the Diet convene an extraordinary session.

It is safe to say even if the scandals may not cost Abe his job, the haughtiness of his administration and the ruling party could chip away his public support.

The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. caihong@chinadaily.com.cn


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