Embattled Shinzo Abe takes responsibility for loss of trust in his government, denies involvement in land sale scandal

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, his popularity plunging amid a cronyism scandal, took responsibility on Monday for a loss of trust in his government

Reuters March 19, 2018 12:16:00 IST
Embattled Shinzo Abe takes responsibility for loss of trust in his government, denies involvement in land sale scandal

Tokyo: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, his popularity plunging amid a cronyism scandal, took responsibility on Monday for a loss of trust in his government but denied he or his wife had intervened in a land sale to a school operator with ties to his wife.

The finance ministry’s announcement last week that documents about the discounted sale to educational body Moritomo Gakuen had been altered have sparked a political crisis for Abe, as suspicions swirl about a cover-up and opposition parties call for both the premier and Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign.

Interrogated by a parliamentary panel on Monday, Abe denied directing changes to the documents, in which references to Abe, his wife and Aso were removed from the finance ministry’s records of the land sale. He told the panel he had not even known of the documents’ existence.

“I did not direct that the documents be altered,” he said.

“In fact, I didn’t even know that they existed at all, so how could I have done that?”

Two opinion polls published over the weekend showed Abe’s support diving to its lowest since he took office in December 2012, and others showed a majority of Japanese believed he bore some responsibility for the scandal.

Embattled Shinzo Abe takes responsibility for loss of trust in his government denies involvement in land sale scandal

File image of Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe. AP

In an apparent nod to those polls, several of which showed his support sinking into the 30-percent level, Abe acknowledged that public trust had been shaken.

“As head of the government, I keenly feel my responsibility in the matter of the people losing their trust in the administration,” he added.

“Ultimately, the responsibility lies with me as prime minister. I would like to apologise once again.”

Opposition lawmakers said answers to their questions were unlikely to come from the premier or Aso and renewed their call for Nobuhisa Sagawa, who had headed the division that submitted the documents before he became tax agency chief in July, to testify in parliament. Sagawa resigned 10 days ago.

A majority of people in the opinion polls backed the calls for Sagawa to testify, as well as Abe’s wife, Akie. But Abe said on Monday that he would answer any questions on her behalf.

The scandal could dash Abe’s hopes of winning a third three-year term as head of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a September leadership election.

LDP lawmaker Seichiro Murakami, a long-time Abe critic, called for Abe to resign last week.

Worries about political instability briefly sent the Nikkei share average to its lowest point in more than a week on Monday, but market players are waiting to see what comes next.

“The point from here on in is whether or not there is proof that Prime Minister Abe or those near him directly ordered the alteration of the documents. If that comes out, the risk of Abe’s resignation will rise,” said Naomi Muguruma, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Abe has fallen behind his main rival in a survey of who voters would like to see as premier.

According to a Nippon TV poll, 24 percent thought former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba was “most appropriate”.

Ishiba was followed by 21.2 percent for Shinjiro Koizumi, the telegenic son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe drew 14 percent while the biggest percentage — 25 percent — said they didn’t know.

Updated Date:

Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro at ₹499 for the first year. Use code PRO499. Limited period offer. *T&C apply

also read

Shinzo Abe's ruling party eyes big gains in snap Japan election
World

Shinzo Abe's ruling party eyes big gains in snap Japan election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's party looks set for a huge win on Sunday in an election that will allow the conservative leader to claim a fresh mandate for his reflationary policies to revive Japan's long-stagnant economy.

Shinzo Abe resigns as Japan PM; successor Yoshihide Suga says COVID-19, economy will be his top priorities
World

Shinzo Abe resigns as Japan PM; successor Yoshihide Suga says COVID-19, economy will be his top priorities

Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, announced last month that he was stepping down because of health problems.

Shinzo Abe receives warm welcome at Ahmedabad airport; Narendra Modi extends bear hug
Photos

Shinzo Abe receives warm welcome at Ahmedabad airport; Narendra Modi extends bear hug

Keeping up with his image, Narendra Modi extended a warm bear hug to welcome Shinzo Abe at the Ahmedabad airport.