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Kishida quiet on scandals amid opposition offensive

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida keeps quiet about scandals that have rocked the administrations of his immediate predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, in campaigns for Sunday’s general election.

Although Kishida, also president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, stressed the significance of fulfilling accountability regarding the “negative legacies” in the run-up to the party’s leadership election on Sept. 29, he is apparently paying consideration to Abe, who maintains influence within the LDP.

For their part, opposition parties have been repeatedly taking up these scandals during their campaigns ahead of the election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of Japan’s Diet.

On Thursday, Kishida stressed in a speech in the northeastern city of Aomori that he has “written down people’s worries and sufferings” in his notebook. Showing the notebook to the audience as he had done in recent campaign speeches for the Lower House election, he vowed to “open up a new era by listing to everybody’s voice.”

However, he did not mention cronyism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen, once linked to Abe’s wife, and Kake Educational Institution, headed by a close friend of Abe, or dubious funding for dinner parties held for Abe supporters on the eve of annual state-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties hosted by the former prime minister.

Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida gives a stump speech Thursday in the city of Aomori. | KYODO
Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fumio Kishida gives a stump speech Thursday in the city of Aomori. | KYODO

Also, a high-profile vote-buying scandal that has implicated former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, Anri, both former LDP lawmakers, over the 2019 election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber, was not taken up in his latest speech.

In his LDP presidential election campaign, Kishida initially said he would “give explanations (on the scandals) until the people are satisfied.” But he backpedaled soon in the face of a backlash from Abe.

At a debate of political party leaders on Oct. 18 for the Lower House election, Kishida merely said, “I’ll explain (the scandals) if needed.”

After the Oct. 19 start of the official campaign period for the general election, Kishida said during a speech in the No. 3 constituency of Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, the former justice minister’s home district, that the former LDP members “caused a serious incident,” adding that “we have to apologize from the bottom of our hearts.”

But he has not referred to the scandals in almost any other campaign speeches so far.

Abe himself has been reluctant to speak about the scandals.

On Thursday, Abe gave a speech in the Tokyo’s No. 15 constituency but did not take up any scandals. A former LDP lawmaker previously elected from the constituency has received a prison sentence over a corruption case linked to a project to set up a casino resort in Japan and decided not to run in the coming election.

LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari, who resigned as a Cabinet minister in 2016 over his receipt of money from a construction company, gave a speech the same day in his home district, the No. 13 constituency of Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, but was mum on the scandals.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are increasingly critical of the LDP-linked scandals. Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), has stressed the need to “change politics that hide, cheat and tamper something.”

Speaking in front of Urawa Station in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, on Thursday, former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada of the CDP likened the LDP to sea bream that “starts to rot from the top.”

“The head (of the LDP) bears considerable responsibility” for the spate of scandals, Okada said.

In a speech in the western city of Kochi, Kazuo Shii, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, said the LDP-led government “has not found out the truth about a series of allegations that state affairs were abused for personal benefits.”

“The prime minister is poised to take over such politics,” Shii said, urging people to put an end to the politics of the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito.

Opposition parties are struggling to carry out their initial plans to land blows on the ruling camp over its unpopular novel coronavirus measures, following the recent plunge in the number of new infection cases. They are also finding it difficult to differentiate their economic policy proposals from the ruling bloc’s as both sides put forward similar wealth redistribution plans.

Opposition forces, therefore, are believed to be focusing on the negative legacies from the recent LDP administrations to intensify their offensive against the ruling bloc.

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