Japan’s Cabalist PM Abe is falling in disgrace as top personalities of his administration are exposed to multiple scandals.
News Analysis: Abe’s scandal-hit Cabinet could fall like dominos if opposition camp keeps up attacks
by Jon Day
TOKYO, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) — With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forced last week to jettison two of his newly-picked female members following a recent rejig to his cabinet, after it was found the pair had been embroiled in political money and election scandals, many observers thought that Abe and his cabinet would weather the storm, but as more political and financial improprieties come to light as opposition parties ramp up their attacks, this may, indeed not be the case.
Adding to Abe’s headaches as his ministers are seemingly being picked off one-by-one by opposition parties looking to chip away at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) powerfully autonomous political base, starting with its upper strata, local media have been quick to remind the public of Abe’s first scandal- plagued stint at the helm, between 2006-2007, that saw resignations for financial and other improprieties reach such a level they were regarded as “serial” and along with ailing health, heavily influenced Abe decision to step down.
Local polls have revealed that the prime minister’s popularity following a spate of scandal-led resignations dropped to below the key 50 percent threshold over the weekend, with analysts predicting that the uproar surrounding a number of other dubious cases, henceforth, may see the problem escalate into something that can’t be contained by simply forcing the perpetrator to resign.
“Obviously the new Cabinet’s reputation took a battering as two of the five women who were mired in scandals were ousted having been hand-picked from his own inner coterie to give the impression he was making good on his ‘Womenomics’push, while ensuring that they followed his increasingly nationalistic party line,” political commentator Philip McNeil told Xinhua.
Former Justice Minister, Midori Matsushima, resigned just hours after the resignation of Trade and Industry Minister, Yuko Obuchi on Oct. 20.
Matsushima stepped down to admit her culpability in violating Japan’s election laws, while Obuchi stands accused of misusing funds from her political support groups and other donations.
For Abe, the drama surrounding Obuchi’s departure from the Cabinet has been hard for the party to keep a lid on, as Obuchi, 40, a relatively young female minister who was supposed to appeal to a broader female LDP electorate in the future and, incidentally, had been hotly-tipped to become prime minister herself one day, has continued playing ignorant to charges levied against her and hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing.
She said she was only actually stepping down to “take responsibility” and to “not impede ongoing economic and energy policy” for the affair, despite investigations showing that her constituency spent funds to the tune of 26 million yen (around 245, 600 U.S. dollars) on theater tickets for her supporters in 2010 and 2011, that remained unaccounted for in her political funds files.
Obuchi, however, maintained that she had failed to oversee the exact spending of her support groups, and would endeavor to clear her name following outside probes.
Obuchi, in a double-whammy, also came under fire for a second time once reports started hitting the headlines that her political funding oversight body had spent nearly 3.6 million yen over a five-year period on a design office run by her sister, and a clothing shop run by Obuchi’s brother-in-law, since 2008, with the allegations adding further fuel to the fire of her initial financial improprieties.
Obuchi, the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, claimed that the money used here was legitimate and had been used within the law, stating that she has “drawn a clear line between public and private matters.”
“But it’s the very fact that these politicians in Japan for decades have failed consistently and wittingly refused to draw legal lines between public and private matters,” McNeil said.
“Admittedly up until recently and since the LDP regained power, Abe and his Cabinet have enjoyed a predominantly scandal-free time, but let’s face it, it was only a matter of time before the dominos started to fall, one-by-one,” McNeil said.
He was referring to a more recent case of Japan’s new Industry Minister Yoichi Miyazawa, who replaced the disgraced Obuchi, who found himself instantly in hot water following revelations that some of his staff at his political office had billed 18,230 yen ( 170 U.S. dollars) as “entertainment expenses” at an S&M bar in Hiroshima, that has shows that depict women being tied up with ropes and whipped.
Miyazawa, a Harvard graduate and former top bureaucrat in the finance ministry, quickly maintained that he himself was not present at the sex club, but conceded that members of his political office had claimed the outlay at the S&M club as an entertainment expense during a visit to the club in September 2010.
“It remains to be seen whether Miyazaki will be forced to step down, or if this will just cause more embarrassment to Abe, being that Miyazaki was only drafted into his post so recently,” Japan- based pacific affairs research analyst, Laurent Sinclair, told Xinhua.
“Adding to the administration’s embarrassment, Miyazawa was caught holding 600 shares in Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which would be almost laughable if it weren’t so worrying, as Miyazawa overseas the energy industry, including its nuclear utilities. Such revelations make a mockery of the 2001 resolution adopted by the Cabinet that decreed none of its members could be stock holders.”
“Miyazaki is either stupid, or he’s a snake, either way is he really the best person for the role of industry minister? I wonder, ” Sinclair mused.
The new industry minister once he was probed said Tuesday that he plans to sell his TEPCO shares when his term comes to an end and will donate all of the money to help the Fukushima region’s restoration.
That could be a hefty donation, economists pointed out, because at the end of the first trading day of this week, TEPCO’s stock surged 16.5 percent to close the day at 395 yen, following reports the utility will report its full-year profits have tripled to upwards of 125 billion yen, despite not restarting any of its idled nuclear plants or hiking electricity rates.
And with the opposition bloc growing in courage as they seek to undermine the credibility of some of Abe’s bigwigs, Defense Minister Akinori Eto, Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa and Health Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, have also been grilled in parliament recently over issues of bribery, improper donations or misreporting political funds.
All three, while having denied any wrongdoing, could face a similar fate as Matsushima and Obuchi, should any of the dirt stick.
“I think the dominos are really going to begin to fall, it’s already started,” McNeil said. “Eto claimed ‘human error’ for a somewhat erroneous political funds report and I heard Nishikawa received illicit donations from a bankrupt livestock firm that was involved in a massive scam and the list goes on.”
“Shiozaki is suspected of using his influence for the betterment of a nursing home near where he comes from and then there’s the photos that have gone viral of National Public Safety Commission chairwoman Eriko Yamatani, who was pictured with a right-wing group now known for ‘hate speech’ demonstrations and Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi who was pictured with the head of a Neo-Nazi party,” said McNeil.
He added that these scandals would be too much for Abe to simply “brush under the carpet” and that the public is displeased as evidenced in the latest support rate polls. Despite the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Edano also being incriminated in a political funding scandal himself, according to his office Wednesday, the opposition camp should continue its momentum in discrediting leading party ministers, if it hopes to redress the massive imbalance of power in parliament, McNeil concluded.
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