Abe’s Disrespect for Diet Questions has Brought Serious Consequences

It can be said that the attitude of letting Diet deliberations go on with insincere responses has had serious consequences.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended meetings of the committees on rules and administration of both chambers of the Diet, where he admitted mistakes in his answers in the Diet and apologized over dinners held by his support group on the eve of cherry blossom viewing parties, as he did in the previous day’s press conference.

The Abe side made up the shortfall in the cost of the dinners, which cost more than the amount paid by the guests. A summary order has been issued to Abe’s state-paid first secretary to pay a fine for violating the Political Funds Control Law for unreported payments in the support group’s political funds reports. Abe has not been indicted due to insufficient evidence.

It is reported that Abe made false statements in the Diet a total of 118 times between November 2019 and March 2020, including denying that his side covered the shortfall. It shows flagrant disrespect for the legislative body. It is only natural that Abe has said that he has undermined the public’s trust in the Diet and that he is keenly aware of the significance of his responsibility.

At the committee meetings, the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, and the Japanese Communist Party questioned Abe about whether covering the shortfall may have been intended to provide monetary benefits to his supporters. Abe said that he did not have the slightest idea of collecting votes from them.

The Abe side had asked the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry how to report the cost of the events in the political funds reports.

When asked why his side did not report the income and expenditure for the events, knowing it was necessary to do so, Abe only said that he could not answer that question because he has been banned by investigative authorities from contacting the secretaries who worked for him at the time.

Even after the Diet hearings, there are still some unclear points. Once the truth is known, Abe should thoroughly fulfill his accountability. He must make a serious effort to regain public trust.

It was in the Diet in November last year that suspicion over the dinners was raised for the first time. Since then, Abe had stressed that nothing illegal took place.

If Abe had examined the actual situation surrounding the accounting in detail and dealt with the issue sincerely when the suspicion first came to light, this would not have become such a serious problem.

Abe’s provocative answers have often caused controversy.

On the issue of the sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Abe said, “If either my wife or I is involved in the issue, I’ll resign both as prime minister and a Diet member.” Later, official documents were falsified by the Finance Ministry to delete mentions of Abe’s wife.

It is undeniable that his careless remarks have caused unnecessary confusion and influenced policy debates on which time should have been spent. Abe needs to take the magnitude of the loss seriously.

The opposition parties intend to question the former prime minister during next year’s ordinary Diet session as well. However, these unreported payments in political funds reports cannot be said to be an issue that shakes the whole of national politics. The Diet should not be a place that only pursues scandals.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 26, 2020.